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Brass Monkey

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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 sixteen.

>> 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 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 just a vulgar expression, didn't you? You must

>> send this fabulous bit of historical knowledge to at least a

>> few uneducated friends.

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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).

Says the oxford dictionary.

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Guest murray johnson

It has often been claimed that the "brass monkey" was a holder or storage rack in which cannon balls (or shot) were stacked on a ship. Supposedly when the "monkey" with its stack of cannon ball became cold, the contraction of iron cannon balls led to the balls falling through or off of the "monkey." This explanation appears to be a legend of the sea without historical justification. In actuality, ready service shot was kept on the gun or spar decks in shot racks (also known as shot garlands in the Royal Navy) which consisted of longitudinal wooden planks with holes bored into them, into which round shot (cannon balls) were inserted for ready use by the gun crew.

US Naval Historical Centre website.

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According to the good ole' Internet, the word "Shit" also has it's roots in naval history. It is an acronym for "Ship High In Transit". Black powder, or explosives of any kind back in the day had a sulphurous stench to them. Anything which had a similar smell was said to smell like SHIT. If such cargo were to be stored in the bowels of the vessel(no pun intended) then it would be an explosive hazard, and could lead to the loss of the ship. If it was "shipped high in transit", it could easily be lobbed over the side if the need arose.

I don't know if this is true, but it sounds quite plausible.

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