Ever wondered what is being referred to when you hear someone say this phrase?

“Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”

It’s not what you may think! 

In the heyday of sailing ships, many ships carried iron cannons. It was necessary to keep a good supply near the cannon.

Those cannon balls were round and had a tendency to roll. 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 30 cannon balls could be stacked in a small area right next to the cannon.

The task at hand was to figure out how to prevent the bottom layer from rolling out from under the other balls. The solution was a metal plate called a ‘Monkey’. It was a brass plate with 16 round indentations.  It was made of brass to keep the cannon balls from rusting to it. The solution to the rusting problem was to make ‘Brass Monkeys’.

Few landlubbers realize that brass contracts more and much faster than iron when chilled. So, when the temperature drops too far, the brass indentations will shrink so much that the iron cannonballs would come right off the monkey.

When this happened, it was quite literally, ‘Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.’

And all this time, you thought that was an improper expression, didn’t you?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*