Green’s Dictionary of Slang

nitty-gritty n.

[ety. unknown; redup. of SE gritty, composed of minute particles]

1. (orig. US black) the basics, the essentials, the grass roots.

Phylon III 338: The real ‘nitty gritty’ is a poem in the ‘Lenox Avenue’ section called ‘Shakespeare in Harlem.’.
Richmond (VA) Afro American 25 Oct. 4(?): As an educator, he displayed nothing more than a set of vague ideas about education and democracy which only became more nebulous the closer he got to the nitty-gritty of actually putting them into practice.
[US]C. Himes Imabelle 33: If she had more money than either of them had ever seen, it was getting down to the nitty-gritty. Those were facts he understood. Money!
[US]L. Hansberry Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window in Three Negro Plays (1969) I ii: Let’s get to the nitty-gritty, as it were! Let’s blast all the crap away —.
[Aus]K. Gilbert Living Black 208: Let’s start going for the nitty-gritty.
[UK]J. McClure Spike Island (1981) 189: Like any job, if you’re in the nitty-gritty of it, it’s very hard to be dispassionate.
[Aus]J. Byrell (con. 1959) Up the Cross 39: Now we get to the nitty-gritty.
[US]P. Beatty White Boy Shuffle 209: Psycho Loco was ready to get down to the nitty-gritty. ‘So when you going to die?’ he asked.
[UK]Guardian Guide 29 May–4 June 93: Takes advantage of the later time-slot to inject a touch more nitty-gritty to proceedings.
[US]‘Touré’ Portable Promised Land (ms.) 151: We Words (My Favorite Things) [...] The low-down. The nitty-gritty.
[US]J. Mabus ‘Little Mister Diddy’ 🎵 Got the nitty-gritty / On little Mister Diddy.
[UK]Guardian G2 29/1: The unexpected invitation to a downtown party with the promiuse of ‘mad females’. this gets into the legal nitty-gritty.
[UK]J. Meades Empty Wigs (t/s) 148: He was on the evasive side: ‘Never got to the nitty gritty... There was a fuss about... [...] all a bit dicey.

2. nit-picking, fine but irrelevant detail.

[SA]Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg) 21 Aug. 🌐 Leave the nitty-greety [sic] about egos and what-ever nonsense and just nswer my question.

In phrases

get down to the nitty-gritty (v.) (also get down to the gritty, ...knitty-gritty, come down to the nitty-gritty)

(orig. US black) to get down to essentials, to basics.

Afro American (Baltimore MD) 2 Oct. mag. Section(?) 2: Putting aside the technicalities involved and getting down to the nitty-gritty position of the dining car case, Elmer W. Henderson got a raw deal this week.
[US]C. Himes Real Cool Killers (1969) 49: ‘Let’s decide what to do with the captive.’ ‘Now you’re getting down to the gritty.’.
[US]J.A. Williams Night Song (1962) 100: This crap is gettin’ down to the knitty-gritty here now.
[US]C. Himes Pinktoes (1989) 14: If he wanted to get down to the nitty-gritty, it was only white guys he had ever seen dirtying in the street.
[US]J. Horton ‘Time and cool people’ in Trans-action 4 5/2: Such expressions as [...] ‘getting down to the nitty-gritty,’ and ‘soul’ can be retraced to Negro street life.
[US]D. Goines Street Players 34: When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, they have the same thing on their fuckin’ minds.
[US]M. Baker Nam (1982) 57: He treats us like men [...] But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, he realised that he was dealing with kids.
[US]C. White Life and Times of Little Richard 194: Now we’re going to get down to the nitty-gritty.
[UK]K. Waterhouse Soho 182: I’m going to allow you to bribe Sergeant Bone and I with a cold Tiger beer apiece, then we’ll get down to the nitty-gritty.
[US]P. Beatty Sellout (2016) 274: Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty — what do we mean by ‘black’?