Balls Off the Brass Monkey," a Navy Phrase about Cannon Balls-Fiction!
Summary of the eRumor This piece of alleged
history explains that in the olden days of sailing ships, cannon
balls were stacked on the decks on brass plates called
"monkeys." The plates had indentions in them that
held the balls on the bottoms of the stacks. Brass, however,
expands and contracts with the temperature and if it got cold
enough, the cannon balls could fall...giving real foundation to the
phrase "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass
According to the United States Navy
Historical Center, this is a legend of the sea without historical
justification. The center has researched this because of the
questions it gets and says the term "brass monkey" and a
vulgar reference to the effect of cold on the monkey's extremities,
appears to have originated in the book "Before the Mast"
by C.A. Abbey. It was said that it was so cold that it would
"freeze the tail off a brass monkey." The Navy
says there is no evidence that the phrase had anything to do with
ships or ships with cannon balls.
A real example of the eRumor as it has
appeared on the Internet:
Subject: brass monkey
In the heyday of sailing ships, all war ships and many freighters
carried iron cannons. Those cannon fired round iron cannon balls.
necessary to keep a good supply near the cannon. But how to
from rolling about the deck?
The best storage method devised was a square based pyramid with
ball on top, resting on four resting on nine which rested on
Thus, a supply of thirty cannon balls could be stacked in a small
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
called a "Monkey" with sixteen round indentations. But,
if this plate
was made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it. The
to the rusting problem was to make "Brass Monkeys."
Few landlubbers realize that brass contracts much more and much
faster than iron when chilled. Consequently, when the temperature
too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron
balls would come right off the monkey. Thus, it was quite
"Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey!"
(And all this time, you thought that was a dirty expression,
You must send this fabulous bit of historical knowledge to at
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