Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
a brass hat
Someone with a lot of authority, power, or influence in a group or organization. When I was a brass hat, I used to charge the most outrageous things to the company credit card. You'll only get a truthful answer if you manage to talk to the brass hats.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, 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.
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.
n. a member of the brass. A brass hat came up to me and asked me where I was going.
McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions Copyright © 2006 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
top brass, the
The highest-ranking officials or executives in an organization. The expression is generally thought to come from the late-nineteenth-century British army, when senior officers had gold oak leaves decorating the brim of their caps. John Ciardi, however, proposed another etymology, from the cocked hat worn by French officers in Napoleon’s time, which was folded and carried under the arm (in French, chapeaux à bras) while indoors; Ciardi believed the British changed bras to brass, and referred to officers as brass hats. By World War II both that term and top brass were in common use and afterward were transferred to peacetime officialdom as well. Thus, “The top police brass spreads out a hot carpet for the local cops” (Philadelphia Bulletin, 1949).
See also: top
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer