General English

  • noun a shiny yellow metal used for making things such as some musical instruments and door handles
  • noun musical instruments made of brass, such as trumpets or trombones


  • A copper alloy with zinc as the principal alloying element.
  • Slang for plumbing fittings and faucets, regardless of their actual material of composition.


  • An alloy of copper and zinc in varying proportions, sometimes incorporating low percentages of other elements such as manganese or silicon. These alloys are corrosion-resistant, very ductile, and have good strength. Applications in electronics include its use in terminals, as connectors, in solder, and to house components.


  • noun an alloy made of copper and zinc


  • adjective broke, penniless. Pronounced to rhyme with ‘gas’, never the southern English ‘class’, this is a short form of boracic or brassick heard among teenagers in the 1990s.
  • noun money. Brass has been an obvious metaphor or euphemism as long as the metal has been used in coins. The word is currently more widespread in northern England.
  • noun a prostitute. Originally in the form ‘brass nail’, this working-class usage is rhyming slang for tail, in its sexual sense.
  • noun a shorter form of brass neck

Origin & History of “brass”

Related forms occur in one or two other Germanic languages (such as middle Low German bras, which meant simply ‘metal’), but essentially brass is a mystery word, of unknown ancestry. Its association with ‘effrontery’ begins in the late 16th century, prefigured by Shakespeare’s ‘face of brass’ in Love’s Labours Lost 1580, and by the first instances of the use of the derived adjective brazen to mean ‘shameless’ (the underlying notion is probably of a face as hard as brass, and therefore unable to show shame). Brass ‘high-ranking people’, as in top brass, comes from brass hat (19th c.), a derogatory slang term for a senior military officer with golden insignia on his cap.