phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

"grasping for the brass ring"

Posted by ESC on June 19, 2003

In Reply to: "Grasping for the brass ring" posted by EE on June 19, 2003

: In an analysis of JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, I saw the expression "grasping for the brass ring" at least twice. What does it mean?

You can access previous discussion by typing "brass" in the archives search. In my opinion, the expression "going for the brass ring" means "going for the prize."

Previous discussion included this information:

"It is what children obtained by reaching out from a merry-go-round (round about?)to snatch a ring from a device that was next to the merry-go-round. You had to hold on with one hand, reach out and grab the ring with perfect timing to get your prize...

We should add that the rings came down a gravity-fed chute, and all of them were iron, except one - the brass ring, which gave you a free second ride as your prize. All the rings were collected by the ride operator and reloaded (in random order) for another chance at the brass ring. So the prize was not merely for being dextrous or long-armed (any child older than, say, 7, could pull a ring) but there was a considerable element of longshot chance involved. The metaphorical use of the phrase "going for the brass ring" has a little of that longshot buried in it...
Writers on the history of carousels say that the

Victorian carousel and the associated brass ring developed from a medieval device for training knights. The knights rode horses in a circle while trying to spear a ring with their lances."