Q: My late father, who was educated at an English public school, was irritated by the use of “brand new” instead of the proper “bran new.” He said something fragile (i.e., a china service) used to be packed in bran, the husk residue from milling grains, but excelsior, a byproduct of manufacturing wood products, replaced bran in the early 20th century.
A: The proper expression, according to every reference I’ve checked, is “brand-new,” not “bran-new.” The “d“ in “brand” is often unpronounced, however, so the phrase sounds like “bran’-new.”
Interestingly, “brand-new” didn’t originally refer to a brand name, or to something so new that it still carried the label or or to a newly introduced product.
The Oxford English Dictionary says the phrase dates back to 1570 (at that time it was spelled “brande-newe”), and the “brand” referred to was a branding iron hot from the fire.
The OED defines the original expression “as if fresh and glowing from the furnace,” and goes on to liken it to Shakespeare’s phrase “fire-new.” The term is now used, of course, to mean quite new or perfectly new.
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