What’s the next word? It might well be hussy. On the other hand, it could be Head, as The Brazen Head is Ireland’s oldest pub, serving since 1198 and mentioned by James Joyce – and imbibed at by Brendan Behan – a touch more recently. If you said image, you’re probably thinking of graven. But one thing’s for sure: the sense is as bold as brass, and the word likewise. There are notes of of fire and food, with blaze and braise echoing, and the noise of braying (with a buzz in the middle) but also a bit of bravery. It lacks the primness of praise, with its voiceless p spreading to rob even the r of its resonance. Certainly there is nothing of Zen about it beyond the letters; whether the bra applies depends on the hussy, but I suspect she would be more brazen without one. Mix it up and you get zebra plus an n, but that’s a horse of a different stripe. The mettle of this one is metallic, and it has an echo of bronze – but it’s all brass all the way, baby; from the oldest version of English, this word means “made of brass” (brass, for its part, is not only old but untraceable: we don’t know where it came from before Old English. It just showed up one day uninvited, it seems. The nerve). And brass is bright, shiny, in your face – and, musically, loud: glaring and blaring. So someone who horns in, or some trumpeting strumpet, gets this word, however unpolished they may be. And they just have to brazen it out.
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