Etymology
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instrument (n.)

late 13c., "musical instrument, mechanical apparatus for producing musical sounds," from Old French instrument, enstrument "means, device; musical instrument" (14c., earlier estrument, 13c.) and directly from Latin instrumentum "a tool, an implement; means, furtherance; apparatus, furniture; ornament, dress, embellishment; a commission, authorization; a document," from instruere "arrange, prepare, set in order; inform, teach," literally "to build, erect," from in- "on" (from PIE root *en "in") + struere "to pile, build" (from PIE *streu-, extended form of root *stere- "to spread").

The word in other Germanic languages also is from French. In English the meaning "a means, an agency" is from mid-14c. The sense of "hand-tool, implement, utensil, something used to produce a mechanical effect" is from early 14c. "Now usually distinguished from a tool, as being used for more delicate work or for artistic or scientific purposes" [OED]. The legal meaning "written document by which formal expression is given to a legal act" is from early 15c. Formerly also used of body parts or organs with special functions.

In wyfhode I wol vse myn Instrument As frely as my makere hath it sent. [Chaucer, "Wife of Bath's Prologue"]
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brass (v.)

"to coat or cover with brass," 1865, from brass (n.). Compare braze (v.2). Related: Brassed; brassing.

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brass (n.)

"yellow malleable alloy metal, harder than copper," Old English bræs "brass, bronze," originally any alloy of copper, in England usually with tin (this is now called bronze), later and in modern use an alloy of roughly two parts copper to 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.

Words for "brass" in other languages (such as German Messing, Old English mæsling, French laiton, Italian ottone) also tend to be difficult to explain. As brass was unknown in early antiquity (it was well-known to Strabo, 1c., but not mentioned by Homer), the use of the English word in Bible translations, etc., likely means "bronze." The Romans were the first to deliberately make it.

When works of Greek and Roman antiquity in 'brass' began to be critically examined, and their material discriminated, the Italian word for 'brass' (bronzo, bronze) came into use to distinguish this 'ancient brass' from the current alloy. [OED]

Rhetorically or figuratively it was the common type of hardness, durability, or obduracy since late 14c. The meaning "effrontery, impudence, excessive assurance" is from 1620s. The slang sense of "high officials" is first recorded 1899, from their insignia. The meaning "brass musical instruments of a band" is from 1832.

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brass (adj.)

"made of brass," c. 1400, from brass (n.). Compare brazen (adj.). Slang brass balls "toughness, courage" (emphatically combining two words that serve as metaphors for the same thing) is attested by 1960s. Brass-band is from 1827.

The figurative brass tacks "essentials of a matter" that you get down to (1897, popular from c. 1910) perhaps are the ones said to have been nailed to the counters of a dry goods stores and used to measure cloth, suggesting precision, but the metaphor was unclear from the start, and brass tacks or nails in late 19c. were commonly noted as being used in upholstering. A 1911 advertisement begins " 'Getting down to brass tacks' is a characteristic American slang phrase, full of suggestion but of obscure origin."

The figurative brass monkey that suffers anatomical loss in freezing weather is attested by 1843:

Old Knites was as cool as a cucumber, and would have been so, independent of the weather, which, as he expressed it, was cold enough to freeze the nose off a brass monkey. ["An Incident of the Canadian Rebellion," in The Worcester Magazine, June, 1843]

Melville  ("Omoo," 1847) has a twist on the image in "hot enough to melt the nose h'off a brass monkey."

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braze (v.2)

"to make of or cover in brass," Old English brasian "to do work in brass, make of brass," from bræs (see brass (n.)). Compare glaze from glass.

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tuba (n.)

1852 in reference to a modern, large, low-pitched brass musical instrument, from French tuba, from Latin tuba (plural tubae) "straight bronze war trumpet" (as opposed to the crooked bucina), related to tubus (see tube (n.)).

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trombone (n.)

brass wind instrument, 1724, from Italian trombone, augmentative form of tromba "trumpet," from a Germanic source (compare Old High German trumba "trumpet;" see trumpet (n.)). German Posaune "trombone" is from Old French buisine, from Latin buccina, bucina "a (crooked) trumpet."

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brassy (adj.)

"impudent," 1570s, from brass (n.) + -y (2). Compare brazen. The literal sense of "coated with brass" is from 1580s. The sense of "debased and pretentious" is from 1580s, from brass as contrasted with gold; the sense of "strident and artificial" is from 1865. Related: Brassily; brassiness.

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brazen (adj.)

Old English bræsen "of brass," from bræs "brass" (see brass (n.)) + -en (2). The figurative sense of "hardened in effrontery" is from 1570s (in brazen-faced), perhaps suggesting a face unable to show shame. To brazen it "face impudently" is from 1550s. Related: Brazenly.

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cornet (n.)

c. 1400, "A wind instrument made of wood and provided with six finger holes" [Middle English Compendium], from Old French cornet (14c.) "a small horn," diminutive of corn "a horn," from Latin cornu "horn of an animal," also "a bugle horn," from PIE root *ker- (1) "horn; head."

Modern use in reference to a brass instrument with valves is short for cornet-à-pistons "cornet with pistons" (1836, from French).

The quality of the tone is penetrating and unsympathetic, by no means equal to that of the trumpet, for which it is commonly substituted. [Century Dictionary, 1897]

Related: Cornettist.

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