WE have all heard the jokes about brass monkeys etc etc but what was the real origin of this well known expression which must be hanging on everyone’s lips at the moment as we experience Arctic conditions across Northern Ireland? I came across a funny and possible accurate description of the origin of the oft quoted quip.
It appears (with the emphasis on this theory being a realistic probability), that is emerged from the days of sailing ships in the 19th century. In those dastardly days when men were men and pirates were feared, it was necessary to have cannon on board for protection. The cannon balls made of iron were required to be stored at the ready for whoever may threaten the flag or the cargo.
But, there was a problem. As you know balls are round, and on a sailing ship storing these small heavy items could be a bit of a problem… not the sort of thing you’d want rolling about your feet in the middle of a naval engagement. So, a device was made to store the cannon balls safely for use.
They were stacked up in a pyramid of four layers – one on top, then four, then nine, and sixteen on the bottom, giving 30 in all. The device that held them together was a “brass monkey“. It was simply a plate of the hollowed out shape of the cannon balls. However, in the freezing cold weather the brass monkey plate shrunk quicker than the iron balls with the result that cannon balls would pop out and the pile would collapse. (The brass monkey was made of brass to prevent it rusting with the cannon balls.)
Hence, the expression, “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass money” came into being. This all sounds very plausible.
But if anyone knows of any other explanations I would love to hear them in the interest of entymological investigation. So “brass monkeys” are synonymous with extremely cold weather.
I wonder if there are any brass monkeys in the board room at Northern Ireland Water? I’d say all of their cannon balls have already been fired by OFMDFM et al with their fleet all at sea… and at war!! No more shots across the bow. The battle is in earnest.