It was necessary to keep a good supply of
cannon balls near the cannon on old war ships.
But how to prevent them from rolling all over the deck was the problem.
The storage method devised was to stack them as a square-based pyramid,
with one ball on top, resting on four, which rested on nine, which rested on sixteen.
This was the common practice; it made a pyramid of cannon balls.
By doing this, a supply of 30 cannon balls could be stacked in a small area right next to the cannon.
But there was only one problem -- how to prevent the bottom layer from sliding/rolling from under the others.
The solution was a metal plate with 16 round indentations, called, for reasons unknown, a Monkey.
But if this plate were made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it.
The solution to the rusting problem was to make the Monkey out of brass - so it became known as a Brass Monkey.
Few landlubbers realize that brass contracts much more and much faster than iron when chilled.
So when the temperature dropped too far,
the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannon balls would actually come right off the Monkey.
Thus, it was quite literally, "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey."
And there you have it.
I'll bet all this time, you probably thought that was just a vulgar expression.
So even if any of you ladies say it, it's perfectly okay.
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