Bless your socks off

Bob Fitzke fitzke at VOYAGER.NET
Tue Jan 16 00:07:17 UTC 2001

Any truth to this tale?

While the expression, "It Was Cold Enough to Freeze the Balls Off a
Brass Monkey!" is still commonly used by sailors in extremely cold
weather, the origin of the phrase has been largely forgotten.
And now, the rest of the story .  .  .
Virtually every sailing ship in the 1700-1800s had cannon for
protection. Cannon of the times required round iron cannonballs.  The
Master usually wanted to store the cannonballs such that they could
be of instant use when needed, yet not roll around the gun deck.  The
solution was to stack them up in a square-based pyramid next to the
cannon.  The top level of the stack had one ball, the next level down
had four, the next had nine, the next had sixteen, and so on.  Four
levels would provide a stack of 30 cannonballs.
The only real problem was how to keep the bottom level from sliding
out from under the weight of the higher levels.  To do this, they
devised a small brass plate called, of course a "brass monkey", with
16 round indentations, one for each cannonball, in the bottom layer.
Brass was used because the cannonballs wouldn't rust to the "brass
monkey,"but would rust to an iron one.  When temperature falls, brass
contracts in size faster than iron.  As it got cold on the gun decks,
the indentations in the brass monkey would get smaller than the iron
cannonballs they were holding.  If the temperature got cold enough,
the bottom layer would pop out of the indentations spilling the
entire pyramid over the deck.  Thus it was, quite literally, "It Was
Cold Enough to Freeze the Balls Off a Brass Monkey!"

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