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posted 8/16/2008 3:17:49 PM |
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It was necessary to keep a good supply of cannon
balls near the cannon on old war ships. But how to
prevent them from rolling about the deck was the
problem. The best storage method devised was to stack
them as a square based pyramid, with one ball on top,
resting on four, resting on nine, which rested on
Thus, a supply of 30 cannon balls could be stacked in
a small area right next to the cannon. There was only
one problem -- how to prevent the bottom layer from
sliding/rolling from under the others.
The solution was a metal plate with 16 round
indentations, called, for reasons unknown, a Monkey.
But if this plate were made of iron, the iron balls
would quickly rust to it. The solution to the rusting
problem was to make them of brass - hence, Brass
Few landlubbers realize that brass contracts much more
and much faster than iron when chilled. Consequently,
when the temperature dropped too far, the brass
indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannon
balls would come right off the monkey.
Thus,it was quite literally, cold enough to freeze the
balls off a brass monkey. And all this time, you
thought that was just a vulgar expression, didn't you?

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Aug 16 @ 3:23PM  

What is the origin of the term 'brass monkey'?
The story goes that cannonballs used to be stored aboard ship in piles, on a brass frame or tray called a 'monkey'. In very cold weather the brass would contract, spilling the cannonballs: hence very cold weather is 'cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey'. There are several problems with this story. The first is that the term 'monkey' is not otherwise recorded as the name for such an object. The second is that the rate of contraction of brass in cold temperatures is unlikely to be sufficient to cause the reputed effect. The third is that the phrase is actually first recorded as 'freeze the tail off a brass monkey', which removes any essential connection with balls. It therefore seems most likely that the phrase is simply a ribald allusion to the fact that metal figures will become very cold to the touch in cold weather (and some materials will become brittle).

Aug 16 @ 3:27PM  
One theory, of sufficient popularity as to be an example of so-called folk etymology, is that a brass monkey is a brass tray used in naval ships during the Napoleonic Wars, for the storage of cannonballs, piled up in a pyramid. The theory goes that the tray, would contract in cold weather, causing the balls to fall off. [7] This theory is discredited by the US. Department of the Navy[8] and the etymologist Michael Quinion and the OED's AskOxford web site[3] for five main reasons:

The Oxford English Dictionary does not record the term "monkey" or "brass monkey" being used in this way.
The purported method of storage of cannonballs ("round shot") is simply false. Shot was not stored on deck continuously on the off-chance that the ship might go into battle. Indeed, decks were kept as clear as possible.
Furthermore, such a method of storage would result in shot rolling around on deck and causing a hazard in high seas. Shot was stored on the gun or spar decks, in shot racks—longitudinal wooden planks with holes bored into them, known as shot garlands in the Royal Navy, into which round shot were inserted for ready use by the gun crew.
Shot was not left exposed to the elements where it could rust. Such rust could lead to the ball not flying true. Indeed, gunners would attempt to remove as many imperfections as possible from the surfaces of balls.
The physics do not stand up to scrutiny. All of the balls would contract equally, and the contraction of both balls and plate over the range of temperatures involved would not be particularly large. The effect claimed possibly could be reproduced under laboratory conditions with objects engineered to a high precision for this purpose, but it is unlikely it would ever have occurred in real life aboard a warship.

Aug 16 @ 3:34PM  
You need to research further back than the Royal Navy my friend. England isn't the only country to use cannonballs.

Aug 17 @ 4:09PM  
Interesting, thanks for sharing!!!

Aug 20 @ 6:22AM  
And all this time I thought it was a Beastie Boys song!

Yeah. I'm really, really late on this one! Sorry!

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