Green’s Dictionary of Slang

brass n.1

1. as a metal used in coins.

(a) (also brassey) money; esp. as in the UK northern phr. where there’s muck there’s brass and similar homilies.

[UK]Tyndale Matthew x 9: Posses not golde, nor silver, nor brasse yn youre gerdels [F&H].
[UK]J. Hall Virgidemiarum (1599) Bk IV 68: Hirelings enow beside, can be so base, Tho’ we should scorne ech bribing varlets brasse.
[US]N. Whiting Albino and Bellama 139: Then fill a dozen hostesse, wee’l have a merry cup, And make the Tinker forfet his budget and his brasse.
[UK]Jack Adams his perpetual almanack 40: The rest of the Planets are fain to use Brass money like the duke of Moscovy.
[UK]J. Thurmond Harlequin Sheppard 18: What a Pother has here been, with Wood and his Brass, / Who wou’d modestly make a few Halfpennies pass?
[UK]C. Dibdin ‘The Rake at Large’ Buck’s Delight 26: I’ve a purse well stock’d with brass.
[UK]Sporting Mag. Dec. XVII 145/1: He must have the brass.
[UK]W. Combe Doctor Syntax, Picturesque (1868) 85/2: I would never be an ass / For all your gold, with all your brass.
[UK]J.J. Stafford Love’s Frailties II i: Oh, it means that if you ha’ not spent all your brass, you may come in.
[US]W.H. Williams Wreck I iii: I don’t consider myself paid till I ha’ gotten the brass in my pocket.
[US]Whip & Satirist of NY & Brooklyn (NY) 3 Dec. n.p.: The sharpers of the ‘Wag’ (which has with all its brass gone below) have started a new daily penny paper.
[UK]J. Lindridge Sixteen-String Jack 248: Here be a purse well filled wi’ brass.
[UK]Mons. Merlin 18 Oct. 6/2: Numismatics seem to afford an unbounded range for the exercise of slang [...] ‘Brass’ is another metallic misnomer.
[Aus]Melbourne Punch 20 Nov. 4/1: ‘Proposals for a New Slang Dictionary’ [...] PEWTER.—Noun. Brads, rhino, blunt, dibbs, mopusses, browns, tin, brass, stumpy, &c.
[US]S.F. Call 26 Mar. n.p.: [He] went to fight the furious tiger, / Went to fight the beast at faro, / And was cleaned out so completely / That he lost his every mopus, / Every single speck of pewter, / Every solitary shiner, / Every brad and every dollar [...] All the dimes and all the horse-nails, / All the brass and all the needful.
[UK]T. Taylor Ticket-Of-Leave Man Act I: You must bank with me till the brass comes.
[UK]W.E.A. Axon Boggart of Orton Cloough 4: We’re two hard-workin fokes ats doin eawr best geet on a bit, an’ save a bit o’ brass.
[UK] ‘’Arry on the Turf’ Punch 29 Nov. 297/1: ’Eere’s oping to hear from yer soon, with the brass.
[UK]Kipling ‘The Three Musketeers’ Plain Tales from the Hills 64: ‘Ah said,’ said Learoyd, ‘gie us t’ brass. Tak oop a subscripshun, lads.’.
[UK]Sporting Times 11 Jan. 2: [He] plastered down his brass, and if he had not got brass his credit, and if he hadn’t got credit, went and found a juggins to back Caerau for the Getting Home Stakes.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 28 Oct. 1/4: Depositors can’t get their ‘brass’ / Until Banks ‘reconstruct’ again.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 14 Nov. 1/1: Of course punters put their brass on Saltoun.
[UK]‘Doss Chiderdoss’ ‘An Ungrateful “Missis”’ Sporting Times 25 Aug. 1/4: I’ve been out of a crib / For a matter of six years or so; / In fact, since we’ve been married, I’m telling no fib, / I’ve been out of work, that’s why the show / Has been run by the missis with her bit of brass.
[US]E. Townsend Chimmie Fadden and Mr Paul 23: I ’m slicing wit me brassey [...] like it was a bread knife.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 8 Jan. 1/1: Ninety per cent of the members did in their brass at Ascot.
[UK]Marvel 15 Oct. 5: I planks down my bit of brass, and we has the men matched for £50 a side.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 29 Jan. 5/3: Her ole man he won’t divorce her, / For he’s one eye on her brass.
[UK]C. Holme Lonely Plough (1931) 144: I’d meant to go, if I’d had to work my passage, but the old man’s seen to the brass.
[UK]J.B. Booth London Town 131: Ah want some brass for the evening!
[US]A.J. Pollock Und. Speaks.
[UK]R. Llewellyn None But the Lonely Heart 89: When He had a job, like and a bit of brass to spare.
[Aus]S.J. Baker in Sun. Herald (Sydney) 8 June 9/5: Detective Doyle's list includes such old English slang words as ‘brass,’ money, which dates from the 16th century.
[UK]J. Braine Room at the Top (1959) 210: Brown chuckled. ‘You should have seen to it that your parents had more brass. I didn’t make the world.’.
[US](con. 1950-1960) R.A. Freeman Dict. Inmate Sl. (Walla Walla, WA) 17: Brass – money.
[UK]P. Terson Apprentices (1970) I ii: Anyone for cards, boys? Show your brass or remove your arse.
[UK](con. 1950) J. Rosenthal Spend, Spend, Spend Scene 10: Get them flogged. Bring me the brass.
[Aus]J. Byrell (con. 1959) Up the Cross 153: The stiff tom stories of types who owed his debt collection agency clients brass.
[Scot]I. Welsh Trainspotting 283: Now th cat is tellin us how tae spend the brass, likesay.
[UK]Observer Screen 7 Nov. 20: The old adage ‘Where there’s muck, there’s brass’.
[Aus]T. Peacock More You Bet 67: ‘Money’ [...] might also be referred to as ‘cash’, or ‘coin’, or ‘oscar’, or ‘moolah’, or ‘notes’, or ‘bills’, or ‘chips’ or ‘brass’, or ‘dosh’, or ‘dough’, or ‘bread’, or ‘biscuits’, or ‘bullets’, or ‘ammunition’.

(b) (W.I.) a penny.

[WI]cited in Cassidy & LePage Dict. Jam. Eng. (1980).

(c) genuine jewellery.

[US]V.W. Saul ‘Vocab. of Bums’ in AS IV:5 338: Brass—Fake jewelry; any jewelry.

(d) (US Und.) a fake ‘gold’ ring, thus brass peddler, a seller of counterfir jewelry.

[US]F.H. Tillotson How I Became a Detective 90: Brass – Phoney jewelry.
[US]J. Black You Can’t Win 163: The ‘brass’ was portioned out and they started uptown to ‘tell the natives how it happened.’.
[US]C. Samolar ‘Argot of the Vagabond’ in AS II:9 388: The term is used chiefly by brass-men,—vags who peddle phoney jewelry (brass) to yokels.
see sense 1c.
[US]Ersine Und. and Prison Sl. 20: brass, n. [...] 2. Cheap jewelry which is used for flash and in swindling.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn) 32: brass Cheap or imitation jewelry.
[US](con. 1950-1960) R.A. Freeman Dict. Inmate Sl. (Walla Walla, WA) 17: Brass-peddler – one who sells spurious jewelry, or slum.
[US]Ragen & Finston World’s Toughest Prison 792: brass – Fake jewelry.

(e) (US prison) currency used in jail.

[US]M. Braly False Starts 135: Wonder if I have enough brass for cup of coffee in the inmate canteen.

2. audacity, gall, cheek [the image of SE brass as a measure of hardness and thus insensibility].

[Ire]Stanyhurst Of Virgil his Æneis II: A brasse bold merchaunt in causes dangerus hardye.
[UK]Cibber Woman’s Wit I i: This Impudence melts my very Soul – There’s a Look! There’s a Forehead! There’s Brass for you!
Farquhar Inconstant I ii: Thou hast impudence to set a good face upon anything; I would change half my gold for half thy brass, with all my heart.
[UK]R. North Examen 256: She, in her Defence, made him appear such a Rogue [...] that the Chief Justice wondered he had the Brass to appear in a Court of Justice.
[UK]O. Goldsmith She Stoops to Conquer Act III: To me he appears the most impudent piece of brass that ever spoke with a tongue.
[UK]G. Colman Yngr Poor Gentleman IV ii: Impudent old scoundrel! [...] calls my family a wretched rabble. (Aside.) – Humphrey, did you ever see such brass?
[UK]B.H. Malkin (trans.) Adventures of Gil Blas (1822) II 195: We polished up the brass upon our foreheads a little. It was time now to bounce and swagger.
[UK]Jack Randall’s Diary 22: What lots of brass the Lad, From ever-bounteous Nature had, To raise a row.
[US]D. Crockett Exploits and Adventures (1934) 169: He was possessed of considerable address, and had brass enough in his face to make a wash-kettle.
[UK]Paul Pry 30 Sept. 181/4: [W]ho should have the brass to make her appearance but Mother Ward, of No. 62, Castle-street, Leicester-square-the keeper of that pestilential bawdy house.
[UK]London Mag. Feb. 64/1: The brother of the cabinet minister, who sported the ‘cut-off coat and brass buttons’ [...] was young Hobbus. Heaven knows he had ‘brass enough,’ without this exhibition, and the sooner he ‘cuts off’ to private life, the better.
[US]W.T. Thompson Major Jones’s Courtship (1872) 65: He’s got more brass in his face than ther is in mother’s preservin kittle, and more gab than Mr. Mountgomery and our preacher together.
[Aus]Satirist & Sporting Chron. (Sydney) 25 Feb. 3/3: Mr Percy Simpson [...] called at Jennings’ Committee Rooms with brass in his face and no tin in his pocket.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 1 Aug. 2/4: The unfortunate ‘scélérat’ being short of tin, was obliged to have recourse to brass.
[UK]A.C. Mowatt Fashion II ii: A rich one he would be, had he as much gold as brass!
[US]Life in Boston & N.Y. (Boston, MA) 28 June n.p.: This young man [...] has the most ‘brass’ of any man in town. Her thinks he is ‘some’.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 131/1: ‘I’ve got plenty o’ brass i’ mi pokkit tu karry uz thru.’ ‘And a bloody sight more in your face; more’n I’d like a “moll” to have if I’d anything to do with her,’ whispered Folkstone.
[Ind]Bombay Gaz. 30 Nov. 3/6: They have no funds, but their supply of what is called in slang language ‘brass’ is unlimited.
[UK]C. Hindley Life and Adventures of a Cheap Jack 199: He started with a lot of ‘tin,’ but had not sufficient ‘brass’ or physique to stand the wear-and-tear of the life.
[US]G. Devol Forty Years a Gambler 290: Why, he’s got more brass than there is in twenty brass bands.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 7 Apr. 3/5: It is Brassey’s ‘brass’ that has made him what he is today.
[UK]Mirror of Life 5 Jan. 11/4: ‘If I have not brass in my pocket I must have it in my face’.
[US]Dave Reed ‘Mister Johnson Don’t Get Gay With Me’ 🎵 He was just about to give de lady sass, / But then, to tell de truth, he didn’t have the brass.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘The Blanky Papers’ in Roderick (1972) 786: There’s no room for a blanky Australian in blanky Australia these days. Only blanky cheek an’ brass and blanky motor car dust in yer blanky face.
[UK]‘Sapper’ Human Touch 189: The brass of them; the ineffable gall.
[US]J. Lait Broadway Melody 27: The music roll was a give-away—these rococo invaders had the brass to think they would make a Zannie show.
[US](con. 1850s) R. Bradford Kingdom Coming 71: Son [...] you got de brass, all right.
[UK]M. Harrison Reported Safe Arrival 62: ’Ow they ’as the brass ter dish all that bull ter the ole Sky-Artist beats me!
[US]R. Leveridge Walk on the Water 72: He’s so much brass, that one, he should be in the limey army.
[Aus]P. White Solid Mandala (1976) 233: ‘I never cared for brass,’ she said, ‘in particular from subordinate young men.’.
[UK]P. Theroux Picture Palace 72: ‘You’ve got brass,’ he said.
[US] in E. Cray Erotic Muse (1992) 335: Any Stanford son-of-a-bitch / Who doesn’t like the Trojan brass, / Can pucker up his rosy lips / And kiss my Trojan ass.
[Can]O.D. Brooks Legs 49: McFadden, you got more brass than the Liberty Bell.

3. as a superior figure, usu. in an institution [brass hat under brass adj.1 ].

(a) (also brass key) a senior officer in the police, a prison, or armed services; also attrib.

‘The Brass-Mounted Army’ in Allan Lone Star Ballads (1874) 59: They issue Standing Orders to keep us all in line, / For if we had a showing the brass would fail to shine. / [...] The sentry’s then instructed to let no Private pass / —The rich man’s house and table are fix’d to suit the ‘brass.’.
[US]Boston Herald 26 July 4/8: It was not a big brass general that came; but a man in khaki kit [DA].
[US]S. Lewis Kingsblood Royal (2001) 81: I heard it from some pretty high-ranking brass on the Other Side.
[US]R. Chandler Little Sister 119: The Krauts cleaned most of it out. Our brass got the rest.
[US]Lait & Mortimer USA Confidential 43: They no longer hesitate to try to take pretty young girls away from high ranking male brass, who used to have first pick on most WAC, WAVE and women Marine recruits.
[US]L. Uris Battle Cry (1964) 123: Ah, we can start the war. The brass has arrived.
[US](con. 1950-1960) R.A. Freeman Dict. Inmate Sl. (Walla Walla, WA) 17: Brass-key – a prison officer of the higher rank.
[US]R. Tregaskis Vietnam Diary 1: I’ve been able to hitch a ride with a group of brass heading down to Vietnam [...] generals and colonels (and one ambassador).
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Pimp 93: His pimping don’t faze the white brass.
[UK]G.F. Newman Sir, You Bastard 163: A DI moving with the brass was of infinitely more value.
[US]J. Wambaugh Choirboys (1976) 67: She believed that the brass of the department was discriminating against women.
[US]J. Ellroy Brown’s Requiem 118: I judged them to be Marine Corps brass.
[US]N. Pileggi Wiseguy (2001) 143: The local prison officials had no way of knowing whether Henry’s case might not be of more than casual interest to the brass.
[Aus]Tupper & Wortley Aus. Prison Sl. Gloss. 🌐 Brass. 1. Prison officer executive ranks.
[US]B. Hamper Rivethead (1992) 129: Roger B. Smith and a flock of Pentagon brass were coming to pay us a visit.
[US]F. Kellerman Stalker (2001) 120: The brass had dictated that unmarkeds were to be used only when the element of surprise was necessary.
[US]G. Pelecanos Night Gardener 5: The brass don’t like him, but they sure don’t fuck with him.
[US](con. 1973) C. Stella Johnny Porno 245: ‘What would make things move on your end?’ ‘A direct order from the brass upstairs’.
[US]D. Winslow The Force [ebook] He has rabbis at the Puzzle Palace [i.e. NYPD HQ], brass looking out for his interests.

(b) any variety of senior official, e.g. a politician.

H.S. Truman Meeting of Reserve Officers Assoc. 22 Feb., Arlington, VA in Cochran H. Truman and the Crisis Presidency n.p.: I am just as fond of and just as loyal to my military aide as I am to the high brass, and I want you to distinctly understand that any SOB who thinks he can cause any of these people to be discharged by me by some smart-aleck statement over the air or in the paper, he has another think coming [R].
[US]B. Schulberg On the Waterfront (1964) 255: The annual banquet [...] boasted a guest list of political brass that rivalled anything in the State.
[US]J. Sayles Union Dues (1978) 38: He’s as good as dead with the brass if he loses.
[US]C. Hiaasen Tourist Season (1987) 328: See, I had a nifty deal going here at the paper. The brass liked me.
Indiawise Oct. 2: Waging these bloody wars which neither change the boundaries nor the perspective of our bumbling brass.

(c) a social superior.

[US]S. Bellow Augie March (1996) 140: So to speak, reserved for the brass, the Frenchel heiresses.

4. (US black, also brasses, brassies) brass knuckles.

[US]Ersine Und. and Prison Sl. 20: brasses, n. Brass knuckles.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn) 33: brasses [...] brassies Brass knuckles.
[US](con. 1950-1960) R.A. Freeman Dict. Inmate Sl. (Walla Walla, WA) 17: Brass-knucks – heavy metal weapons used on the fists; brasses.
[US]E. Folb Runnin’ Down Some Lines 106: Brass knuckles (knuckles, brass).

5. (US) bullets [the brass cases].

[US]F. Bill Donnybrook [ebook] Others gave [...] pocketknives passed down from long-gone kinfolk, or brass that had not been fired.

In compounds

brass man (n.)

1. (Aus.) a confidence trickster.

[US]C. Samolar ‘Argot of the Vagabond’ in AS II:9 388: The term is used chiefly by brass-men,—vags who peddle phoney jewelry (brass) to yokels.
[Aus]Baker Aus. Speaks.

2. (US Und.) a politician or one who has influence among politicians.

[US]Howsley Argot: Dict. of Und. Sl.
brass officer (n.)

(US) a performer on the cornet.

[US]Eve. Sun (Baltimore, MD) 19 Dec. 21/4: Brass officer: cornet player.
brass peddler (n.)

(US tramp) a person who sells imitation gold jewellery.

[US]J. Black You Can’t Win 111: ‘Brass peddlers,’ bums who sold imitation gold jewelry, principally rings, appeared on the streets with their ninety-cents-a-dozen gold ‘hoops’ made in Wichita, Kansas, and ‘dropped’ them to the Indian squaws and railroad laborers for any price from one dollar up […]. [Ibid.] There is no more industrious person than a half-drunk brass peddler out on the street ‘making a plunge’ for enough coin to buy himself another micky of alcohol.
[US]‘Goat’ Laven Rough Stuff 13: All the boys from brass peddlers (petty confidence men) to stick-up men used to go there. A brass peddler is a fellow that buys fake jewelry, and stamps it 14 carat.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).

In phrases

brass along (v.)

to go through life cheerfully, without much regard for the feelings of others.

[UK]Partridge DSUE (1984) 129/2: from ca. 1918.
brass down (v.)

to pay money owed.

[UK]Marvel XIV:344 June 1: You’ll take any oath as is put to yer that you’ll brass down to them outside what’ll be named for to take it?
brass it out (v.)

to bluff, bluster or brazen one’s way out of a situation.

A. Royall Southern Tour 195: A few of the exquisites came down the bluff to gaze at me, and a scape-gallows fellow, to brass it out, came on board — I was grieved to see such impudence in so young a man.
[UK]Brighton Gaz. 17 Jan. 5/4: Those, however, who prefer living by their wits, instead of their hands, ought [...] to use a slang phrase of the fraternity, ‘brass’ out everything.
F. Browne Castelford Case 72: Them Protestants always takes to worldly things, instead of true religion [...] they think to brass it out, and look grand and fine.
[US]Century Mag. 14 385/1: The fellow tried to brass it out, but Davney's tirade took him off his feet. He fell into a chair and could not say a word.
Railway Herald Mag. 1-2 14: I don’t think it was a very successful attempt, but I managed to brass it out until assistance arrived.
R. Leighton Other Fellow 101: Trust to luck. Brass it out. There’s nothing like audacity.
[US]H.L. Wilson Ruggles of Red Gap 288: He apparently resolved to brass it out, for he glanced full at me with a terrific assumption of bravado.
J. Coast Railroad of Death 143: I tore out all the most unpleasant things about the Nips and hoped to brass it out if it were called in.
C.F. Potter Preacher & I 350: Would he brass it out? After all, he must have some nerve if he was a cop- killer .
J.D.MacDonald Shades of Travis McGee 397: They tried to brass it out for a little while. But the redhead started snuffling and choking.
[UK]Economist 277 77/2: When the scandal first broke the conglomerate [...] tried to brass it out.
[Scot]I. Welsh Filth 204: Then Lennox reluctantly disappears, trying to brass it out.
[Scot]L. McIlvanney All the Colours 190: ‘He’d brass it out. He never said it anyway’.
[UK]K. Richards Life n.p.: I said, ‘We’ve got to brass it out, Stu.’.
brass off (v.)

see separate entry.

brass up (v.)

1. to hand over money; to pay a debt.

[UK]Sporting Times 25 Jan. 1/5: If you don’t brass up I shall put you orf the ’bus.
[UK]Binstead & Wells A Pink ’Un and a Pelican 175: Romano brassed up the thick ’uns.
[UK]Bateman & LeBrunn [perf. Vesta Victoria] A 'oliday on One Pound Ten 🎵 [T]he money shrunk a bit when we brassed up the fare.
[UK]E. Pugh Spoilers 7: Brassin’ up my deaner for a chair.
[UK]T. Burke Limehouse Nights 295: If yeh don’t brass up by Wednesday night – then I’ll see that yeh get it where the bottle got the cork.
[US]G. Henderson Keys to Crookdom 399: Brass up. To divide stolen goods, to split, cut up, to divvy.
[UK]Wodehouse Right Ho, Jeeves 79: He brassed up like an officer and a gentleman.
[UK]Wodehouse Mating Season 78: And Gussie brassed up and was free?
[UK]Wodehouse Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit 71: Don’t these blokes want to see books and figures and things before they brass up.
[UK]Wodehouse Much Obliged, Jeeves 54: I presumed Uncle Tom would brass up.

2. (W.I., Bdos) to scold, to reprimand.

[WI]F. Collymore Notes for Gloss. of Barbadian Dial. 21: The sergeant brassed up his men when he heard they had let the prisoner escape, i.e. gave them a good ‘dressing down’.
shove the brass (v.)

(US Und.) to peddle fake or cheap jewellery.

[US]Ersine Und. and Prison Sl. 20: Johnny and his beetle are out now, trying to shove the brass.