Monday, 10 March 2008

Brass neck

brass neck/brass-neck/brass necked - boldness or impudence/audacious, rude, 'cheeky' - brass neck and brass necked are combinations of two metaphorically used words, brass and neck, each separately meaning impudence/impudent, audacity/audacious. Neck was a northern English 19th slang century expression (some sources suggest with origins in Australia) meaning audacity or boldness - logically referring to a whole range of courage and risk metaphors involving the word neck, and particularly with allusions to hanging, decapitation, wringing (of a chicken's neck) - 'getting it in the neck', 'sticking your neck out', and generally the idea of exposing or extending one's neck in a figurative display of intentional or foolhardy personal risk. As regards brass, Brewer 1870 lists 'brass' as meaning impudence. The modern OED meanings include effrontery (shameless insolence). Brassy means pretentious or impudent. Brass is also an old (19thC) word for a prostitute. Some of these meanings relate to brass being a cheap imitation of gold. Some of the meanings also relate to brass being a very hard and resilient material. Phonetically there is also a similarity with brash, which has similar meanings - rude, vulgarly self-assertive (probably derived from rash, which again has similar meanings, although with less suggestion of intent, more recklessness). At some stage during the 20th century brass and neck were combined to form brass neck and brass necked. Many sources identify the hyphenated brass-neck as a distinctly military expression (same impudence and boldness meanings), again 20th century, and from the same root words and meanings, although brass as a slang word in the military has other old meanings and associations, eg, top brass and brass hat, both referring to officers (because of their uniform adornments), which would have increased the appeal and usage of the brass-neck expression in military circles. (sources OED, Brewer, Cassells, Partridge)


No comments: