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Brass tacks, whale-the-synonym, midway

Brass tacks
I learned a new idiom! "getting down to brass tacks" Never having heard it before, I naturally assumed it was an English Englishism, but this page tells me that it was first attested in Texas in 1863.

"getting down to brass tacks"

I use it myself
I know it well.
I have heard it before.
It's unfamiliar.
Brass tacks?

It suddenly struck me last week that "whale" as a synonym for human fatness, along with "blubber", seemed distinctly American to me (as opposed to British). True?

At dinner last week after her BSFA interview, Jo Fletcher wondered what a midway ride was. We settled on a "fair ride" as the closest easy translation.

Then this week, I read Drop Dead, Gorgeous (thanks to impulse library browsing), a large swathe of which takes place at an Iowa State Fair fairground which really does not resemble the original. For example: what main building? And if you had a large fairground designed to host tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people, would you keep it closed 50 weeks a year if you could possibly use it a fair number of other weeks of the year for other events? By the time our main characters have done an incoherent tour of various farflung bits of the grounds, they could have been out of an exit many times over; but they were waiting for "the" exit.

Also, and more relevantly, the well-known really-tall slide is no indication at all that they are on the midway. Because it isn't.


( 42 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 4th, 2011 01:32 pm (UTC)
"Beached whale" is not uncommon - particularly for late-stage pregnant women! "Blubber" as a term for the fat itself is not unusual, though not pleasant.
Oct. 4th, 2011 01:33 pm (UTC)
Would a non-pregnant person consider saying something like "I feel like a whale today", meaning "fat", as a vaguely standard phrase?
(no subject) - gillo - Oct. 4th, 2011 01:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - heleninwales - Oct. 4th, 2011 02:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 4th, 2011 02:30 pm (UTC)
I am astonished by how many people know it well but have never heard it before.
Oct. 4th, 2011 03:09 pm (UTC)
I'm taking that as inconclusive evidence. Some people are clearly marking because they have heard it before, in addition to being familiar with it.

Others, I suspect, took it as I meant it (very unclearly), i.e. "it sounds vaguely familiar to me as a phrase".

I think I would have to post a better-worded poll to be certain about whether it's something spotted in texts vs. heard in use.
(no subject) - sioneva - Oct. 4th, 2011 07:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - desperance - Oct. 4th, 2011 04:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - Oct. 4th, 2011 04:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 4th, 2011 02:49 pm (UTC)
'Midway' is interesting. To me, Midway is a company that made arcade games, and was part of both Bally and Williams at different times. I shudder to think how much money I poured into Midway-branded machines in my youth.

I assume that the name of the company is a reference to midway rides, but what I hadn't realised is that (according to Wikipedia, if you believe it), the word derives from Midway Plaisance in Chicago and the 1893 exposition.
Oct. 4th, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC)
For me, Midway would generally be preceded by 'The Battle of'...
(no subject) - desperance - Oct. 4th, 2011 04:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - klwilliams - Oct. 4th, 2011 05:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - desperance - Oct. 4th, 2011 05:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - Oct. 4th, 2011 05:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - desperance - Oct. 4th, 2011 05:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - Oct. 4th, 2011 05:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
State fairs - momist - Oct. 4th, 2011 08:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - klwilliams - Oct. 4th, 2011 05:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - a_d_medievalist - Oct. 4th, 2011 05:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Midway - momist - Oct. 4th, 2011 08:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Midway - owlfish - Oct. 4th, 2011 09:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Midway - noncalorsedumor - Oct. 10th, 2011 03:32 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 4th, 2011 04:13 pm (UTC)
Brass Tacks was the name of a Channel 4 Panorama type consumer programme in the 80s and 90s I think. But yeah, I've known the phrase since I was a child.
Oct. 4th, 2011 04:55 pm (UTC)
"Getting down to brass tacks" is one of those phrases that I learned as somewhat old-fashioned (so probably either from my southern relatives, or else from older media), so I've never used it, to my memory at least.

Just like how I failed a math placement test in elementary school, I on principle avoid answering superfluous questions. Ergo no "have heard it before." (To be honest, that wasn't a radio-button poll? It seems designed to be one.)
Oct. 4th, 2011 05:00 pm (UTC)
It might have yielded better evidence that I made it a radio poll, yes! But I yielded to the temptation of letting people also tick the thus-far unused option of "Brass tacks?"
Oct. 4th, 2011 05:13 pm (UTC)
'Brass Tacks' is a phrase my mother used for as long as I can remember, usually in a context where she was addressing some shortcoming of mine ie 'you've got to stop messing about and get down to brass tacks.' I used to take great delight in persistently asking what she meant by 'brass tacks' which used to annoy her no end. I suspect I was quite an annoying teenager...
Oct. 4th, 2011 05:24 pm (UTC)
Have you ever been satisfied as to what brass tacks are? I notice you didn't tick the "Brass tacks?" option. (As, indeed, no one else has either. Perhaps everyone has a very sound understanding of these things these days?)
Brass Tacks - momist - Oct. 4th, 2011 08:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 4th, 2011 05:29 pm (UTC)
I wondered whether fairgrounds sat empty, especially in a place like Idaho (where I grew up), where there aren't a whole lot of people. So I googled, and discovered tons of Idaho fairgrounds, all of them advertising something exciting happening all the time. So that's a data point.
Oct. 4th, 2011 05:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you! The state fairground in Iowa is certainly regularly used for all sorts of events throughout the year, which is why I was sarcastic about the novel saying it was deserted 50 weeks of the year (although I may have been so roundabout about it that my actual meaning was lost). So it's good to know that others are leveraging their assets, so to speak, as well.
Oct. 4th, 2011 06:05 pm (UTC)
"röra på späcket " = moving the blubber = exercising
The Swedish word for blubber is used in a similar way - if it was a phrase adopted for English I might have expected a Swedified version of the English word but that's my uneducated speculation.
Oct. 4th, 2011 06:05 pm (UTC)
Re: "röra på späcket " = moving the blubber = exercising
Adopted from English I mean.
Oct. 4th, 2011 07:20 pm (UTC)
I first heard the phrase "get down to brass tacks" in an industrial music composition by Lydia Lunch and Jim Thirlwell (using the name Clint Ruin) in the late 80s. Ever since then, I've always heard the phrase in his voice: "It's about time to get down to some serious business. It's time to get down to -- get down to brass tacks."

You can listen to it here if you like, but note that neither the song nor the YouTube image is SFW.
Oct. 4th, 2011 07:42 pm (UTC)
As Fatty "Deathfat!" McFattypants, I'm not sure I know whether the term "whale" is used regularly on both sides of the Atlantic to refer to my type of body. I didn't come to the UK until after my discovery of fat/size acceptance, so I don't tend to read material that attacks fat people much and, statistically, I think my size is less encountered in the UK anyway and the only person I knew who was around my size (Siggy) certainly never called herself anything derogatory.

Interestingly, Webster's online includes the definition "one that is impressive especially in size " but the closest the OED gets to that is " fig. phr. a whale on …, having a great capacity or appetite for…, very good at or keen on.‥ a whale of (orig. U.S.): ‘no end of’. colloq." with the most notable example being '1913 19th Cent. Sept. 621 [They] had what the Americans call ‘a whale of a good time’.'

So, I would say that the idea of the whale as something large (and therefore a fat person being large and whale-like) is probably more American in its derivation?

Oct. 4th, 2011 07:43 pm (UTC)
Grargh. And I do not know why it decided to put in all the ridiculous hyperlinks. Sorry!
(no subject) - moon_custafer - Oct. 5th, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pwilkinson - Oct. 6th, 2011 01:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - heleninwales - Oct. 4th, 2011 08:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 4th, 2011 11:20 pm (UTC)
Brass tacks, to me, is what you put flooring down with - and I always thought it was a Yorkshire idiom. It could also be Cockney - "Brass tacks" = facts.
Oct. 5th, 2011 12:30 am (UTC)
It suddenly struck me last week that "whale" as a synonym for human fatness, along with "blubber", seemed distinctly American to me (as opposed to British). True?

We (being my mother, her boyfriend and I) used to refer to my sister as The Whale, but that was mostly because it was the late 80s and she had a paisley hair scarf thing that she used so often that it was so full of teenaged hair grease that it would have been like spearing a whale.

Now that I think of it, this was not only cruel to my sister but also startlingly clever of her boyfriend.

But yes, UK women do use the "feel like a whale" construction, usually in connection to pregnancy and occasionally in connection to general bloatedness, either food- or period-related.

(I am astounded that 'brass tacks' is a USian-ism. I would have confidently laced it as Yorkshire. Is it possible that they just didn't have newspapers at the time, says the Lancastrian,

Edited at 2011-10-05 12:32 am (UTC)
Oct. 10th, 2011 03:37 am (UTC)
The only time I've ever encountered anyone use "blubber" to refer to fatness was in the Judy Blume book entitled Blubber. Whale references are something I've encountered more frequently, even if they don't necessarily use the word "whale" (e.g., in The Usual Suspects: "Big fat guy, I mean like orca fat").
( 42 comments — Leave a comment )