Brass Monkey






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).

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