To freeze the balls off a brass monkey

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To freeze the balls off a brass monkey

It has been unusually brisk in Brisbane lately—it barely made 16 degrees today. (It snowed in Stanthorpe! In Queensland!)

Today was the coldest day in the history of everything, as far as I’m concerned. There’s also some kind of football game in town tonight, meaning people wearing strange clothes in strange colours are wandering about drunkenly. Some of them are insistent on showing their team T-shirts, no matter that it’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.

Which brings me to the term…

You’re probably familiar with it, and you’ve probably heard some nonsense about it relating to ships and cannonballs and some kind of cannonball holder called a ‘monkey’. (That is, cannon balls were stored in a brass holder called a ‘monkey’, and when it got really cold, the metal would contract and the balls would fall out…) I suspect that I may have even repeated this story to people earnestly at some point.

Thing is, this is complete codswallop.

I looked it up today. I probably should have done that first, before I told people about cannons and sailing ships.

Yes, like the story about Spanish people lisping becauth thith ith what the king of thpain oneth did, it is founded on nothing that is factually verifiable.

The term always related to actual brass monkey testicles. (I’m as surprised as you to have found myself writing that last sentence…)

Well, actually, the expression originally related to other brass monkey extremities: nose, tail, toes, etc… And then some clever person took it to the next level.

I’m sure they were very pleased with their coinage. And then some muppet came along and spread a baseless story, forever stealing their thunder (which has another great etymology).

Read the full Wikipedia article.

(And stay warm! Lest you make like a brass monkey.)

 

 

By | 2017-05-19T08:20:31+00:00 July 17th, 2015|Etymology, Personal|0 Comments

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Writer, editor, musician, plain English evangelist, content ninja for hire, and general web guy, Rory does lots of things, when he has time...

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