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Brass bands were being discussed today which naturally led to someone claiming to be brassed off about something, meaning disgruntled or annoyed. Does anyone know the origin of this expression? Michael Quinion over at World Wide Words suggests the phrase may have arisen from the Royal Navy's use of cleaning brasswork as a punishment, but that doesn't seem altogether convincing.

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2 Answers 2

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This NGram suggests brassed off came later than brass monkey, as used in the expression cold enough to freeze the balls/nose off a brass monkey. I know some of the earlier usages for brass monkey here don't actually have that figurative meaning, but plenty do.

In light of that, I would simply say that "brassed off" actually derives from the earlier expression. If you've been kept hanging about in the cold, that's a typical situation where you'd be "brassed off".

Huge numbers of slang expressions are assigned naval/military origins, and I suppose it's always possible sailors were more in the habit of using that colourful metaphor for biting cold, but I doubt it's got anything to do with actual specific things made of brass on ships or similar.


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The OED reckons it came from "Service slang", and cites 'browned off' as a comparison. The earliest use there is 1941; taken together with the Ngram, this leads me to believe it arose suddenly and untraceably, as slang does, among the troops (probably the RAF, who were very inventive in such matters), and proved so useful it spread everywhere.

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The OED calls a lot of things "service/naval slang" even when they're not exactly sure of precise origins. Young men account for a huge proportion of all slang, and through the 40s many of them were conscripts, so it's hardly surprising the OED would say that in this case, even though in many ways they weren't properly "service personnel" in the normal sense. But even if it was, say, an airman who coined this particular variant, I still think that would not have been possible without the antecedent "brass monkeys". –  FumbleFingers Jul 29 '11 at 21:21

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