Webster's New World College Dictionary Copyright © 2010 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio.
- a military officer of high rank: so called from the gold braid often on the cap
- any high official, executive, etc.
Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
noun SlangThe American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition Copyright © 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
- A high-ranking military officer.
- A high-ranking civilian official.
Origin: From the gold braid on the hat.
brass hat - Phrases/Idioms
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
A high-ranking official, as in All the brass bats were invited to the sales conference. The terms big brass, top brass, and the brass all refer to high officials considered as a group. For example, John's one of the top brass in town—he's superintendent of schools. The origin of this term is disputed. Most authorities believe it originated in the late 19th-century British army, when senior officers had gold leaves on their cap brims. Another theory is that it referred to the cocked hat worn by Napoleon and his officers, which they folded and carried under the arm when indoors. In French these were called chapeaux à bras (“hats in arms”), a term the British are supposed to have anglicized as brass. By World War I brass hat referred to a high-ranking officer in Britain and America, and in World War II it was joined by the other brass phrases. After the war these terms began to be used for the top executives in business and other organizations.