Tuesday, May 13, 2008
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).
at 7:21 AM