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[bras, brahs] /bræs, brɑs/
any of various metal alloys consisting mainly of copper and zinc.
a utensil, ornament, or other article made of such an alloy.
  1. brass instrument.
  2. brass instruments collectively in a band or orchestra.
metallic yellow; lemon, amber, or reddish yellow.
  1. high-ranking military officers.
  2. any very important officials.
Informal. excessive self-assurance; impudence; effrontery.
Machinery. a replaceable semicylindrical shell, usually of bronze, used with another such to line a bearing; a half bushing.
British. a memorial tablet or plaque, often incised with an effigy, coat of arms, or the like.
Furniture. any piece of ornamental or functional hardware, as a drawer pull, made of brass.
British Slang. money.
of, made of, or pertaining to brass.
composed for or using musical instruments made of brass.
having the color brass.
Origin of brass
before 1000; 1945-50 for def 5; Middle English bras, Old English bræs; cognate with Old Frisian bres copper, Middle Low German bras metal
Related forms
brassish, adjective
6. cheek, nerve, brashness, gall, chutzpa. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for brass
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • I will go further, and admit that the brass plates may not all be frauds.

  • The visitor's advent was announced again by the brass knocker on the front door.

    Thoroughbreds W. A. Fraser
  • To effect a change of ownership with the candid concomitance of a brass band.

    The Devil's Dictionary Ambrose Bierce
  • Will you give us each a bracelet of brass as well as the rifles?

    The Monster Men Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Kirkwood smiled grimly, with a face of brass, impenetrable, inflexible.

    The Black Bag Louis Joseph Vance
British Dictionary definitions for brass


an alloy of copper and zinc containing more than 50 per cent of copper. Alpha brass (containing less than 35 per cent of zinc) is used for most engineering materials requiring forging, pressing, etc Alpha-beta brass (35–45 per cent zinc) is used for hot working and extrusion. Beta brass (45–50 per cent zinc) is used for castings. Small amounts of other metals, such as lead or tin, may be added Compare bronze (sense 1)
an object, ornament, or utensil made of brass
  1. the large family of wind instruments including the trumpet, trombone, French horn, etc, each consisting of a brass tube blown directly by means of a cup- or funnel-shaped mouthpiece
  2. (sometimes functioning as pl) instruments of this family forming a section in an orchestra
  3. (as modifier): a brass ensemble
a renewable sleeve or bored semicylindrical shell made of brass or bronze, used as a liner for a bearing
(functioning as pl) (informal) important or high-ranking officials, esp military officers: the top brass See also brass hat
(Northern English, dialect) money: where there's muck, there's brass!
(Brit) an engraved brass memorial tablet or plaque, set in the wall or floor of a church
(informal) bold self-confidence; cheek; nerve: he had the brass to ask for more time
(slang) a prostitute
(modifier) of, consisting of, or relating to brass or brass instruments: a brass ornament, a brass band
adjective brazen
Word Origin
Old English bræs; related to Old Frisian bres copper, Middle Low German bras metal
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for brass

Old English bræs "brass, bronze," originally in reference to an alloy of copper and tin (now bronze), later and in modern use an alloy of two parts copper, one part zinc. A mystery word, with no known cognates beyond English. Perhaps akin to French brasser "to brew," because it is an alloy. It also has been compared to Old Swedish brasa "fire," but no sure connection can be made. Yet another theory connects it with Latin ferrum "iron," itself of obscure origin.

As brass was unknown in antiquity, use of the word in Bible translations, etc., likely means "bronze." The Romans were the first to deliberately make it. Words for "brass" in other languages (e.g. German Messing, Old English mæsling, French laiton, Italian ottone) also tend to be difficult to explain.

The meaning "effrontery, impudence" is from 1620s. Slang sense of "high officials" is first recorded 1899. The brass tacks that you get down to (1897) probably are the ones used to measure cloth on the counter of a dry goods store, suggesting precision. Slang brass balls "toughness, courage" (emphatically combining two metaphors for the same thing) attested by 1960s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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brass in Science
A yellowish alloy of copper and zinc, usually 67 percent copper and 33 percent zinc. It sometimes includes small amounts of other metals. Brass is strong, ductile, and resistant to many forms of corrosion.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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brass in Culture

brass definition

Musical instruments traditionally made of brass and played by blowing directly into a small, cup-shaped mouthpiece. They include the French horn, trumpet, trombone, and tuba.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Slang definitions & phrases for brass



  1. Impudence; effrontery; chutzpa •Fr the late 1500s brass had the same meaning in the phrase face of brass, that is, ''brazen-faced'' (1700s+)
  2. Money •Common in British usage (late 1500s+)
  3. High officials or managers in general; the BRASS: There's lots of vice presidents here but they're not really brass (1899+)
The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with brass
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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