Cold enough to freeze the ..... off a brass monkey

  1. Subject: It's Cold Enough.....

    In the days when every sailing ship had a cannon for protection, cannons required round iron cannonballs.

    The Captain or Master wanted to store the cannonballs so they could be of instant use when needed, yet not roll around on 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, and 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 ("brass monkey") with one rounded indentation for each cannonball in the bottom layer.

    Brass was used because the cannonballs wouldn't rust to the "brass monkey," but would rust and stick to an iron one. When the temperature falls, however, 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, "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey." A little military trivia that you always thought meant something else.

    Just thought everyone would be interested in this...

    Last edit by Dplear on Jan 10, '02
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    About Dplear

    Joined: Nov '00; Posts: 900; Likes: 35
    Registered Nurse


  3. by   prmenrs
    That is just terrific!! Where in theworld did you come up with that?? I absolutely LOVE it!!

    WAY , , !
  4. by   WashYaHands
    Very Interesting. Thanks!

  5. by   RNKitty
  6. by   RNKitty

    Remind me not to play Trivial Pursuit with you.
  7. by   donmurray
    Nautical myth? If the balls rusted together, they would not spill, (or be available to shoot !) Brass was expensive, and cannonballs were actually stored in "garlands" a sort of spicerack affair with holes in, which was hung on the wall, and made of wood. The differential in relative contraction with temperature change is tiny, less than a millimetre so it never happened.
    The phrase is first recorded in the US around 1840, a little late for the days of cannon and sail.
    Good story, though!
  8. by   CashewLPN
    um... I heard almost the same story in the navy...
    and, its still my fave...
    except the brass monkey isint a underthing... its a holder, like a band... and when it contracted, it squeezed the balls, popping them out... (like breaking all seals, whatnot...)

  9. by   night owl
    Hey Dave,
    That was a good one. Does this mean anything else?... It's colder than a witches t!t on the north side of a barn?!?!
  10. by   fiestynurse
    Or, "colder than a witches tit in a brass bra"
  11. by   night owl
    Hey fiesty,
    How about a Bitc*es t!ts in a brass bra? Could be why they're bitc*es! I sure would be if I wore a brass bra!!! fer sure...And colder than brass monkey balls too...{{{burrrrrrr!}}}
  12. by   Dplear

    This is actually true. the cannon balls on American ships were stored in a pyramid shape. Also 1840 is not too late for Sailing ships and cannons. The seas were still patrolled by long masted ships. And it is very true that brass is expensiv e, but was used extensively on ships due to the fact that it was rust proof. and also the point of contact on the cannon balls was of such a small amt that they would not rust together as they would have had they benn in a iron rack. Brass also does contract a higher rate than iron in the cold so that would account for the balls popping out.

  13. by   Cubby
    Thank you. That was wonderful. I love finding new information!!
  14. by   kellisdomain
    [font=courier new] lmao i can now tell the story about the brass balls. oh, i know how witches feel with those brass bras at times. lol