“Freezing the Balls Off the Brass Monkey,” a Navy Phrase about Cannon Balls–Fiction!
Summary of 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 monkey!”
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.
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. It was
necessary to keep a good supply near the cannon. But how to prevent them
from rolling about the deck?
The best storage method devised was a square based pyramid with one
ball on top, resting on four resting on nine which rested on sixteen.
Thus, a supply of thirty 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
called a “Monkey” with sixteen round indentations. But, if this plate
was made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it. The solution
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 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 a dirty expression, didn’t you?)
You must send this fabulous bit of historical knowledge to at least
ten unsuspecting friends (or enemies) within thirteen and one half
seconds. If you don’t, your floppy is going to fall off your hard drive and
kill your mouse. Don’t send it back to me. I’ve already seen it.