cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Discuss word origins and meanings.

cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by Archived Topic » Sun Mar 28, 2004 4:20 pm

[Much drivel has been posted on this topic and I have consolidated and tossed out a lot of the bogus repetitious material and saved a sampling of what has been written. I will also follow up with some further information from reliable sources.-- Forum Moderator]
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I saw a science instructional film on PBS that discussed the kinetic theory of matter--the higher the temperature the greater the molecular motion and the more expanded matter beomes. An example of this occured on ships Napoleon sent to Russia. On warships cannon balss were store in brass retainers called monkeys. In the extrme cold of Russia the iron cannonballs shrank but the brass retainer shrank more and cracked spilling the cannonballs on deck. The expression arose: cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.

Jeff USA

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Where does the expression "freeze the balls off a brass monkey" come from?

Gord from Vancouver, B.C.Canada

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On a whim, I looked up Wordwizard's origin of "freeze the balls off a brass monkey" hoping to confirm what I was told. I believe the term may be an old nautical term. During the days of the old wooden war ships, cannon balls were stored on a device called a "monkey" which was made of brass so as to prevent sparks. When it would get "very" cold, the brass monkey would contract, causing the (cannon) balls to fall off, thus the phrase "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey." As a matter of context, the young boys who worked on these old ships responsible for delivering gun powder to the guns were known as "Powder Monkeys."

T. J. D. --USA.

Posted - 26 Nov 2007 : 20:18:23
It's enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey! Does anyone know the origin of this saying? Someone actually said that to me this morning, and I replied yes it is, giving the impression I knew the meaning of the saying, but I don't. All I know is, it refers to cold weather conditions, but why?

william turner (Wills41)
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cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by Archived Reply » Sun May 23, 2004 12:44 am

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According to the United States Navy Historical Center, this is a legend of the sea without historical justification. The center has researched this because of the questions it gets and says the term "brass monkey" and a vulgar reference to the effect of cold on the monkey's extremities, appears to have originated in the book "Before the Mast" by C.A. Abbey. It was said that it was so cold that it would "freeze the tail off a brass monkey." The Navy says there is no evidence that the phrase had anything to do with ships or ships with cannon balls.
Reply from ( - )

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A Semitic word for brass is peh-lamed-zaiyin
PeLeZ. Most Arabic dialects use B for P, so
that sounds like bells or BaLLS.

A Semitic word for "shudder" is peh-lamed-tzadi
PeLeTZ = shudder (as from cold). Compare palsy:
2. any of a variety of atonal muscular conditions
characterized by tremors of the body parts or of
the entire body.

kuf-feh-(vav)oo-aleph KaFoo? = freeze/frozen
kuf-(vav)oo-feh KooF = monkey

So, the Semitic equivalent of "brass monkey"
is a near homonym for, and therefore a pun on,
the Semitic equivalent of "shudder-frozen".

That is, with translations in [brackets],

PeLeTZ [shudder/palsy] KaFoo? [frozen]
BaLLS oFF
PeLeZ [brass] KooF [monkey]

So what we have here is the transliterated sound of
"shudder-freeze" [probably in Arabic] followed by its
translation into English: brass monkey.

I think "brass monkey" may have entered English by the same
route as "white rabbit" [= (have a) bountiful month] and
"Welsh rabbit" [= milk/cheese & ale on toast]... perhaps via
the "Black Irish" after 1588 (year of the Spanish Armada).

Of course, all of this is rather "academic" for someone
who does not know any Semitic language. But, for one
who does, it is an eye-opener.

Israel Cohen
izzy_cohen@bmc.com
Reply from Israel Cohen (Petah Tikva - Israel)

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Probably originated from anywhere north of Vancouver, BC!
If you go to Ask the Word Wizard, you will get a very short response. I looked a little farther and found the following:

Word Detective:

Origin of the Specious “Brass Monkeys”: Considering that monkeys are our evolutionary cousins, more or less, the development of English slang has been of two minds regarding our little primate pals. The monkey crops up in countless folk sayings and catch phrases, some of which are vaguely affectionate -- to call a child a "monkey," for instance. More often, however, the monkey has been used as an object of mockery, from "making a monkey of" someone, meaning to cause them to look foolish, to "I'll be a monkey's uncle," an expression of astonishment. When we don a "monkey suit," or tuxedo, we're comparing our appearance to that of the organ grinder's monkey, dressed in a gaily colored outfit, that was a fixture of urban life in the 19th century. And while "monkey business" may connote either innocent silliness or underhanded behavior, to have a "monkey on one's back" is to be plagued by a stubborn addiction, usually to illegal drugs. Monkeys could use a good public-relations agent.

The slang term "brass monkeys" is actually a shortening of the phrase "cold enough to freeze the tail off a brass monkey." (Common variants of the phrase almost invariably specify a more risque element of the monkey's anatomy, but we'll go with "tail" for purposes of this column.) While a brass monkey might seem an outlandish item, such knickknacks were, in fact, quite popular in Victorian drawing rooms, usually found in sets of three, set in the classic kitsch "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" pose. Given that brass monkeys were the Lava Lamps of the age and thus never far from the Victorian mind, their use in the phrase is not surprising. Of course, given the shocking dearth of brass monkeys in modern living rooms, it's also not surprising that the phrase seems so mysterious to us today.
Reply from Leif Thorvaldson (Eatonville - U.S.A.)

Posted - 26 Nov 2007 : 21:28:17
William, if you use this site's search facility to look for the exact phrase brass monkey, you will find your answer in the previous discussions on this topic.

Erik Kowal

[Note: Previous discussions have been brought into this posting.]

Posted - 26 Nov 2007 : 21:59:10
...and, once again, the brass monkey rears his ugly balls.

trolley

Posted - 27 Nov 2007 : 00:28:40
The trusty Michael Quinion summarizes the collected ignorance of the etymologists as to the source of this one quite nicely. The previous discussions on this site are rather fragmented.

Phil White
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cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue Nov 27, 2007 5:37 am

Below, I have tried to gather together, in one spot, the most reliable information (pardon some of the repetition) I could find on the infamous Brass Monkey question. As I searched through various sources I was amazed to find just how many of them got sucked into the bogus cannonball story. The following should, for those of you who read it, help put this widely-circulated urban legend soundly to sleep (and possibly you too in the in the process). (<:)
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Here is the actual text of a very informative article on Brass Monkey by the Department of the Navy that was referred to in an above posting:

DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

BRASS MONKEY

The word "monkey" is of uncertain origin; its first known usage was in 1498 when it was used in the literary work Reynard the Fox as the name of the son of Martin the Ape. "Monkey" has numerous nautical meanings, such as a small coastal trading vessel, single masted with a square sail of the 16th and 17th centuries; a small wooden cask in which grog was carried after issue from a grog-tub to the seamen's messes in the Royal Navy; a type of marine steam reciprocating engine where two engines were used together in tandem on the same propeller shaft; and a sailor whose job involved climbing and moving swiftly (usage dating to 1858). A "monkey boat" was a narrow vessel used on canals (usage dating to 1858); a "monkey gaff" is a small gaff on large merchant vessels; a "monkey jacket" is a close fitting jacket worn by sailors; "monkey spars" are small masts and yards on vessels used for the "instruction and exercise of boys;" and a "monkey pump" is a straw used to suck the liquid from a small hole in a cask; a "monkey block" was used in the rigging of sailing ships; "monkey island" is a ship's upper bridge; "monkey drill" was calisthenics by naval personnel (usage dating to 1895); and "monkey march" is close order march by US Marine Corps personnel (usage dating to 1952). [Sources: Cassidy, Frederick G. and Joan Houston Hall eds. Dictionary of American Regional English. vol.3 (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1996): 642; Wilfred Granville. A Dictionary of Sailors' Slang (London: Andre Deutch, 1962): 77; Peter Kemp ed. Oxford Companion to Ships & the Sea. (New York: Oxford University; Press, 1976): 556; The Oxford English Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1933; J.E. Lighter ed. Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang. (New York: Random House, 1994): 580.; and Eric Partridge A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. 8th ed. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company): 917.]

"Monkey" has also been used within an ordnance context. A "monkey" was a kind of gun or cannon (usage dating to 1650). "Monkey tail" was a short hand spike, a lever for aiming a carronade [short-sight iron cannon]. A "powder monkey" was a boy who carried gun powder from the magazine to cannons and performed other ordnance duties on a warship (usage dating to 1682). [Source: The Oxford English Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1933.]

The first recorded use of the term "brass monkey" appears to dates to 1857 when it was used in an apparently vulgar context by C.A. Abbey in his book Before the Mast, where on page 108 it says "It would freeze the tail off a brass monkey." [Source: Lighter, J.E. ed. Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang. (New York: Random House, 1994): 262.]

It has often been claimed that the "brass monkey" was a holder or storage rack in which cannon balls (or shot) were stacked on a ship. Supposedly when the "monkey" with its stack of cannon ball became cold, the contraction of iron cannon balls led to the balls falling through or off of the "monkey." This explanation appears to be a legend of the sea without historical justification. In actuality, ready service shot was kept on the gun or spar decks in shot racks (also known as shot garlands in the Royal Navy) which consisted of longitudinal wooden planks with holes bored into them, into which round shot (cannon balls) were inserted for ready use by the gun crew. These shot racks or garlands are discussed in: Longridge, C. Nepean. The Anatomy of Nelson's Ships. (Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, 1981): 64. A top view of shot garlands on the upper deck of a ship-of-the-line is depicted in The Visual Dictionary of Ships and Sailing. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1991): 17.

"Brass monkey" is also the nickname for the Cunard Line's house flag which depicts a gold lion rampant on a red field. [Source: Rogers, John. Origins of Sea Terms. (Mystic CT: Mystic Seaport Museum, 1984): 23.]

2 May 2001
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Here is a follow-up discussion to the one above by the always entertaining and authoritative Evan Morris of Word Detective:

BRASS MONKEY:

[[Question]]: Dear Word Detective: On rooting through your site today I came across your explanation for "brass monkey," which I had believed to come from nautical circles, and that the brass monkey was a triangular frame, similar to those used in the game of snooker, though this was made of brass and not wood. My understanding was that into this frame, the brass monkey, cannonballs were placed in readiness for battle. When the temperature out at sea dropped to a certain level, the frame would contract and send the cannonballs on their merry way across the deck and toes. I stand to be corrected. -- Nigel Cotterill, Macclesfield, UK.

[[Reply]]: That's good, because I have a little question. Let us presume that in the days of cannonballs winter came, as it does today, once a year, and that the period of cold weather probably extended from late October until at least mid-March in the northern hemisphere. We'll call it four months to be fair. Does it seem likely that any navy worth its salt would adopt a method of storing high explosive ordnance that would pose a grave danger to its ships' crews for one-third of every year? It doesn't to me.

To back up a bit, the phrase at issue is, as I will put it for my tender readers, "Cold enough to freeze the [gonads] off a brass monkey" or, in a popular expurgated variant, "to freeze the tail off a brass monkey." The infuriatingly popular (but nonetheless incorrect) explanation for the phrase that you encountered usually posits that the cannonballs were piled into a pyramid within the "monkey" frame. This is indeed a common practice at historical monuments on dry land, but would be a terrible idea on a deck rolling and pitching at sea.

Evidently, at least in the British Royal Navy, cannonballs were stored in holes cut in planks mounted close to the guns, an elegant method assuring both security and easy access. Furthermore, while the young boys assigned to bring powder to the cannon deck from the ship's magazine were apparently known as "powder monkeys," there is no record in contemporaneous accounts of life at sea (which are plentiful) of any storage device called a "monkey."

As I said in my original column on this topic, kitschy depictions of the three "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" monkeys cast in brass were popular tchochkes in Victorian living rooms, making metaphors such as "he could talk the tail off a brass monkey" and "hot enough to melt the nose off a brass monkey" common at the time. The "cannonballs" story is just another invention of what one wag has dubbed "CANOE," the Committee to Ascribe a Naval Origin to Everything.

November 16, 2006
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And here, for easy reference, is what Michael Quinion of World Wide Words had to say on the subject:

BRASS MONKEY WEATHER

[Q] From Peter Grace: “Over here in Queensland, it gets pretty cool in the evenings at this time of the year (though it’s probably pretty mild by UK standards). The other day, I used the expression brass monkey weather and was asked to explain. Any ideas?”

[A] The full expansion of the phrase is cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey and is common throughout the English-speaking world, though much better known now in Australia and New Zealand than elsewhere. This is perhaps surprising, since we know it was first recorded in the USA, in the 1850s. It is often reduced to the elliptical form that you give (perhaps in deference to polite society — for the same reason, it has been modified in the US into freeze the tail off a brass monkey).

There is a story, often repeated, that the phrase originated in the British navy at the time of the Napoleonic wars or thereabouts. It is said that the stack of cannon balls alongside each gun were arranged in a pyramid on a brass plate to save space, the plate being called a monkey. In very cold weather, the story goes, the cannon balls would shrink and they would fall off the stack.

Don’t let anybody convince you of this. It’s rubbish. There’s no evidence that such brass plates existed. Although the boys bringing charges to the guns from the magazine were known as powder monkeys and there is evidence that a type of cannon was called a monkey in the mid seventeenth century, there’s no evidence that the word was ever applied to a plate under a pile of cannon shot. The whole story is full of logical holes: would they pile shot into a pyramid? (hugely unsafe on a rolling and pitching deck); why a brass plate? (too expensive, and unnecessary: they actually used wooden frames with holes in, called garlands, fixed to the sides of the ship); was the plate and pile together actually called a monkey? (no evidence, as I say); would cold weather cause such shrinkage as to cause balls to fall off? (highly improbable, as all the cannon balls would reduce in size equally and the differential movement between the brass plate and the iron balls would be only a fraction of a millimetre).

What the written evidence shows is that the term brass monkey was quite widely distributed in the US from about the middle of the nineteenth century and was applied in all sorts of situations, not just weather. For example: from The Story of Waitstill Baxter, by Kate Douglas Wiggin (1913): “The little feller, now, is smart’s a whip, an’ could talk the tail off a brass monkey”; and from The Ivory Trail, by Talbot Mundy (1919): “He has the gall of a brass monkey”. Even when weather was involved, it was often heat rather than cold that was meant, as in the oldest example known, from Herman Melville’s Omoo (1850): “It was so excessively hot in this still, brooding valley, shut out from the Trades, and only open toward the leeward side of the island, that labor in the sun was out of the question. To use a hyperbolical phrase of Shorty’s, ‘It was ’ot enough to melt the nose h’off a brass monkey.’”

It seems much more likely that the image here is of a real brass monkey, or more probably still a set of them. Do you remember those sculptured groups of three wise monkeys, “Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil”? Though the term three wise monkeys isn’t recorded earlier than the start of the twentieth century, the images themselves were known much earlier. It’s more than likely the term came from them, as an image of something solid and inert that could only be affected by extremes.

Updated 24 October 2004
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SNOPES.COM is a website devoted to debunking Urban Legends (also called Folk Etymologies - see folk etymologies & urban legends). For the SNOPES discussion seeBrass Monkshines.

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In his book Word Myths, Dave Wilton does any excellent job on Cold Enough to Freeze the Balls Off a Brass Monkey and I will here summarize what he had to say:

1) There is no evidence that the word monkey was ever use for such a cannonball rack or device. Ships did not stack cannonballs on deck but instead on wooden planks with holes drilled in them which were called shot racks or shot garlands.

2) The earliest example of the use of the phrase ‘brass monkey’ is in Melville’s 1847 novel OMoo as discussed in World Wide Words above (“It was ’ot enough to melt the nose h’off a brass monkey”). But that reference was to the words hot and melt and not cold and freeze. However, he says that perhaps Melville’s use of nose is just a euphemism for balls from a perhaps older unrecorded version. In any case he says there is no doubt that the reference was to anatomy and not ordnance. And this surmise is supported by the many examples – see my quotes below – which involve anatomical parts such as tails, ears, and whiskers being frozen or melted off the long-suffering monkey, as well as nasty scalding of their throats, rotting of their guts, etc.

3) There may however, be some truth to the claim that the expression was born in the navy because the earliest examples are all in nautical contexts. And in the 17th century monkey did refer to a type of cannon, and monkey tail dating from 1822 is a nautical term for a bar used as a lever to level a cannon. Nevertheless there is no proof of a connection between ordnance and the phrase, and the 17th century cannon usage was obsolete two hundred years before the phrase appeared.

4) So how does Wilton think the term arose? Well, one thing he says may be responsible is what someone has humorously dubbed CANOE, or the Conspiracy to Attribute Nautical Origins to Everything, which, incidentally, is the title of the chapter in Wilton’s book in which our phrase appears. Also, he says that there is often a tendency to either euphemize the ‘saltier’ expressions (e.g. ‘freeze the tail off . . . ’) with a substitution of the offending word, or to leave the expression in tact but create a story that makes the expression non-offensive and justifies its use in polite society.
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The following are some BRASS MONKEY-related quotes:

BRASS MONKEY noun (used in various proverbial phrases, some vulgar)
<1857 “Whew ain't it a blowing ‘Jehosaphat Bumstead’ & cold,’ it would FREEZE THE TAIL OFF FROM A BRAFS MONKEY.”—Before the Mast in the Clippers: Composed in Large Part of the Diaries of Charles A. Abbey Kept While at Sea in the Years 1856 to 1860 (1937) by Charles A. Abbey, page 108>

<1865 “His comparison of distance was, ‘As far as a blue-winged pigeon could fly in six months,’ his measure of cold was. ‘Cold enough to FREEZE THE BRASS EARS ON A TIN MONKEY.”—Wearing Gray by Cooke, page 399>

<1866 “It was cold enough to FREEZE THE TAIL OF A BRASS MONKEY.”—Vigilantes by Dimsdale, page 128>

<1870 “It is hot enough to SCALD THE THROAT OUT OF A BRASS MONKEY.”—Big-Foot by Duval, page 148>

<1872 “TALK THE LEG OFF A BRASS MONKEY”—Secret Service by Burnham>

<1879 “Would SINGE THE HAIR ON A BRASS MONKEY”—Dictionary of Americanisms by Mathews>

<1907 “I’se most FROZEN—STIFFER THAN A BRASS MONKEY.”—Army & Navy Life, November, page 559>

<1920 “He came from a climate that would FREEZE THE NOSE OFF A BRASS MONKEY.”—in Letters of Carl Sandburg, page 175>

<1927 “It would FREEZE THE WHISKERS OFF A BRASS MONKEY.”—Good Morning by Carl Sandburg, page 208>

<1935 “That old pukey stuff! Why, It’d ROT THE GUTS OF A BRASS MONKEY!”—Of Time and River by Tom Wolfe, page 67>

<1943 “We must have looked bad enough to SCARE THE PANTS OFF A BRASS MONKEY.”—Boondocks by Horan & Frank, page 88>

<1957 “Jesus Christ, it’s cold out tonight. That’s the kind of weather that’ll FREEZE THE BALLS OFF A BRASS MONKEY.”—Certain Women by Erskine Caldwell, page 249>

<1959 “The weather’d FREEZE THE RIGS ON A BRASS MONKEY.”—Barren Beaches by Cochrell, page 4>

<1960 “Man, I’m so hungry I could EAT THE BALLS OFF A BRASS MONKEY.”—Cully by Bluestone, page 16>

<1963 “I do know you’ve got a two-star general HOT ENOUGH TO MELT THE BALLS OFF A BRASS MONKEY.”—Dead Are Mine by Ross, page 80>

<1969 “You got MORE NERVE THAN A BRASS MONKEY.”—Numbers by Pharr, page 185>

<1970 “She and me been in scrapes that would SCARE THE NUTS OFF A BRASS MONKEY.”—Garden of Sand by Thompson, page 424>

<1979 “A cold fit to FREEZE THE BALLS OFF A BRASS MONKEY.”—Wayward Sailor by T. Jones, page 6>

<1993 “A mud bath . . . ‘COLD ENOUGH TO FREEZE THE BALLS OFF A BRASS MONKEY.’”—Newsweek, 18 January>

<2003 “Sub-zero centigrade temperatures sound as though they would FREEZE THE BALLS OFF A BRASS MONKEY, whereas 32 Fahrenheit sounds like just another grey day. Daily Mirror (London), 11 August>

<2007 “It was so cold it could FREEZE THE BALLS OFF A BRASS MONKEY. We [[actor Pierce Brosnan]] shot that water scene in Oregon during what turned out to be the toughest winter in decades in Oregon. Of course. But that's the fun of making movies.”—Chicago Sun-Times (Illinois), 2 February>
(quotes from Historical Dictionary of American Slang and archived sources)
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cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by Phil White » Tue Nov 27, 2007 12:21 pm

Interestingly, I, and I suspect most people, have only heard the variant "freeze the ... off a brass monkey" (usually "balls", sometines "nuts" and very occasionally "tail"), and the latest reference Ken quotes to anything but freezing weather is 1970. I suspect that this is the only usage that has survived to any great extent now.

Thank you, Ken for consolidating the posts and the references.
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Re: cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by searat » Tue Feb 10, 2009 10:12 pm

A Brass Monkey is a triangular rack, made of brass and bolted to the deck between the guns of any FRENCH-BUILT sailing warship built after about 1750. It is used to stow ‘ready-use' cannonballs in a flat rack, NOT ‘stacked up like a pyramid,' (the first time the ship heaved over from a swell or wave, the balls would be all over the place if they were stacked up!!), though soldiers in a fort might consider it. It is very similar to a rack used in Billiards or Pool. If you refer to Jean Boudriot's books, he shows Brass Monkeys CLEARLY located on the decks of French-built frigates in both his scale drawings, and in his photographs of contemporary ship models in the Musee de la Marine, and in neither case are any of the balls stacked up in a pyramid.

A Brass Monkey is made of brass, because when cast-iron cannonballs are left lying around for any amount of time in a marine environment, they will RUST, and quickly too. If the Monkey was made of iron, the balls would rust onto the rack, making them very difficult, if not impossible to remove without some sort of tool. If the Monkey was made of wood, the constant shifting of the ship and the cannonballs would soon wear down the Monkey, making the balls loose and liable to fall out in difficult weather. This is why a Brass Monkey is by definition made of brass, though some 'monkeys' were doubtless made of other materials at different times.

Many mention that British warships used either shot racks or shot ‘Garlands' to stow cannonballs, and largely, that is true. However, it is ONLY true of British-built warships, and does not include the (many!) warships captured from the French (British builders were too cheap to use brass, which is a situation largely still true today, but were happy to use them if they were already aboard!). The French did not distinguish between one form of shot rack and another, instead calling all of them 'Parcs de boulets.'

'Shot garlands' are usually found on the upper decks of British-built warships, and consists of a small wooden shelf bolted onto the bulwark with cups to hold a few cannonballs. A shot rack is found on the LOWER decks of British-built warships, and consists of a slightly raised straight wooden plank running fore and aft with cup holes to hold cannonballs and is bolted to the deck, located BEHIND the guns near the centerline of the deck.

The Brass Monkey is superior to either the shot garland, or the shot rack, because you can place more cannonballs in a Brass Monkey than either the garland or shot rack, and of course, the balls are located near the muzzle of the gun when it is withdrawn thus being more accessible for reloads.

As to the old saying ‘Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey,' as far as I know, it is far more likely that the original expression was ‘Cold enough to freeze the balls ON a brass monkey' (i.e. the balls were literally frozen into the rack, either through ice, or possible contraction of the Brass Monkey itself), which was subsequently heard and repeatedly misquoted by landlubbers at a much later date. No pyramid of cannonballs, no balls popping out, just stuck in place and therefore useless.

The term 'Brass Monkey' is of course English sailors slang ('Monkey' because it 'gripped' the balls rather than relying on simple gravity to keep them in place as is the case with a Shot Garland), and as captured French warships didn't remain in British service much after the end of the Napoleonic wars, the 'Monkey's' didn't stay around in accurate English usage for much longer either.
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Re: cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Feb 12, 2009 7:02 am

searat wrote:A Brass Monkey is a triangular rack, made of brass and bolted to the deck between the guns of any FRENCH-BUILT sailing warship built after about 1750 . . . If you refer to Jean Boudriot's books, he shows Brass Monkeys CLEARLY located on the decks of French-built frigates in both his scale drawings, . . .
Searat. I’m not from Missouri, but you are going to have to show me anyway. Your sayings something is true just doesn’t quite convince me. I’ve spent a modest amount of time doing some fact checking and I have found nothing that would indicate that your above statement (as well as a few of your others) is correct. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t, but I’d have to see some proof first. This subject has been researched to death and it seems passing strange, but not impossible, that for a question so thoroughly investigated, your French brass cannonball rack would have been missed.

For what looks to be a credible, very interesting, fairly detailed and documented discussion on the subject of the brass monkey, which reaches a conclusion contrary to yours – that the brass monkey (including the French triangular brass ones you mention) never existed – see here. I did some fact checking to make sure the guy who wrote this was for real. And after thumbing through The Seventy-Four Gun Ship (1986) Vol. 1 & 2, the translation by D. H. Roberts of Jean Boudriot's Le Vaisseau de 74 Canons (1973), I found everything he said concerning that book (illustrations, etc.), at least, to be accurate. Of course, Jean Boudriot, as well as others, have written a lot of additional books on sailing history and there were only so many references I could check in the limited time I devoted to this. But if you could cite the sources you used to reach the conclusion that those wooden triangular racks that Boudriot discussed were actually made out of brass – at least at some point in their history – so that I could confirm that, I would be only too happy to agree that they existed. Of course, even if they did exist, it would require some further convincing that they had any connection to the 19th-century English expression relating very cold weather to a monkey’s gonads.
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Re: cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by searat » Thu Feb 12, 2009 7:43 pm

Yes, I have seen your references before, and this is really a big part of the problem! Virtually all the so-called ‘research’ into this expression is based on an endless series of copying, cut and pasting, and slight re-wording of a single source from the US Navy (which never used ‘monkeys,’ brass of otherwise, nor did we make use of French ships, as we were allies for most of the time period in question!).

A big part of the problem originates with the timing and creation of dictionaries for the English language. The earliest dictionary of any note (and survived virtually unchanged for almost 150 years) is that produced by Samuel Johnson in 1750. This was before ‘monkeys’ were in any sort of general use by the French, or anyone else, and so would not be included. The next dictionary of any note is the Oxford English Dictionary, which was not produced until 1884, which is about 40 years AFTER ‘monkeys’ were in general use.

A big problem with the Oxford dictionary (and most others subsequently produced) is that until very recently, they were all very loathe to include words that might be considered slang, cant, or obscene. In fact, some words were purposefully CHANGED because of this over-emphasis on ‘proper’ English. For example, the word ‘rabbit’ is a product of this sort of change. Prior to the Victorian period, ‘rabbits’ were referred to as ‘coneys’ (pronounced ‘cunnys’), and as this term was also used in obscene slang to refer to a specific part of the female anatomy (still is!), the word in polite society was changed to ‘rabbit,’ although the infantile version ‘bunny’ still harks back to the original. That said, the transformation was not complete, and to this day if you speak with an English game-keeper or poacher, he is still likely to refer to that small fuzzy animal as a ‘coney.’

The same problem plagues the ‘brass monkey,’ as by the time the Oxford dictionary was produced, this term had slipped into slang and obscenity (and not only are sailors certainly known for this in a big way, but at the time in question, were largely illiterate as well!), and thus the dictionary producers would not include this term, even in its original context, even if that was known by the lexicographers of the day (not known as great sailors, for the most part!). If you think of just how many slang or obscene terms of expressions exist which are currently very well-known, and which have histories going back to Anglo-Saxon days, yet until very recently were not included in ANY dictionary, you will understand what I mean. However, and despite the dictionaries, those words have survived because they still refer to the same things, and these things still exist familiarly, which is not the case with the ‘brass monkey.’

Now on to references and research. First off, we can easily put to bed the whole concept of cannonballs stacked in a pyramid on a ship at sea. Go to your local pool hall and get a rack of pool balls and rack them up on a small and easily moved side-table. Then stack additional balls on top until you have your pyramid. Next, start moving the table from side to side, back and forth, and tipping it over in a semi-violent fashion (at least 30-45 degrees), while holding the rack in place. What happens to the pyramid of pool balls? Correct, they are all over the place, and you may shortly be ejected from the pool hall as well…. In other words, a pyramid or other stacking of balls doesn’t work at sea, not now, not ever!

Next, for views of ‘monkeys,’ please have a look at Modeles Historiques Musee de la Marine’ by Boudriot, page 170, and you will see that the balls in their ‘monkeys’ are NOT stacked in any way, but are racked flat and exposed to the elements (and there are a variety of other photos of other ships showing the same thing). Next, go to page 186, and you will see standard shot racks between the guns, also exposed to the elements. Now go to page 204, where you will see ‘shot garlands,’ mounted on the bulwarks as I described previously, also exposed to the elements and ‘getting in the way of ship-handling’ (as your Harland reference insists would not be the case!). And on page 205, paragraph 2, you will see Boudriot refer to this as ‘a l’Anglaise,’ or ‘English style.’ Nowhere in any of Boudriot’s works will you see any shot racks referred to as anything but ‘Parcs a boulets,’ as the French did, and do not distinguish between the different types of shot racks, with the exception of the shot garland. Next, for a view of an English shot rack, go to ‘The Ships of Trafalgar,’ by Peter Goodwin and have a look at a shot rack aboard HMS Victory on color plate 16. It is located behind the guns on the lower deck, as I also described previously.

Now on to the discussion of the particular use of brass. While not all ‘monkeys’ were made of brass, but were also made of iron and wood as occasion and funds were available, it is very easy to see why a ‘brass monkey’ would be preferable to either iron or wood, and would be referred to specifically as a ‘brass monkey,’ and not just ‘monkey.’ The use of brass in conjunction with iron to prevent sticking due to rust or corrosion is quite well-known, and I can give you a variety of references to that effect (it is one of the primary reasons bullet cartridges are still made of brass, not steel). Please have a read through of: http://www.copper.org/publications/news ... ennia.html
Certainly, cast iron cannonballs exposed to a marine environment will rust like nobodies business, and a constant task for otherwise unoccupied sailors aboard men-of-war was ‘chipping shot’ with hammers to remove rust and improve the roundness of the balls themselves.

As to the specific term ‘monkey’ in nautical usage, there are a variety of things referred to as ‘monkeys.’ "Monkey" has numerous nautical meanings, such as a small coastal trading vessel, single masted with a square sail of the 16th and 17th centuries; a small wooden cask in which grog was carried after issue from a grog-tub to the seamen's messes in the Royal Navy; a type of marine steam reciprocating engine where two engines were used together in tandem on the same propeller shaft; and a sailor whose job involved climbing and moving swiftly (usage dating to 1858). A "monkey boat" was a narrow vessel used on canals (usage dating to 1858); a "monkey gaff" is a small gaff on large merchant vessels; a "monkey jacket" is a close fitting jacket worn by sailors; "monkey spars" are small masts and yards on vessels used for the "instruction and exercise of boys;" and a "monkey pump" is a straw used to suck the liquid from a small hole in a cask; a "monkey block" was used in the rigging of sailing ships; "monkey island" is a ship's upper bridge; "monkey drill" was calisthenics by naval personnel (usage dating to 1895); and "monkey march" is close order march by US Marine Corps personnel (usage dating to 1952). Also, there is a ‘monkey’s fist,’ which is a tight knot used on a throwing line. Note in most of these nautical uses, ‘monkey’ refers to something in either very close order, isolated, tight-fitting, or gripped, and this is EXACTLY the same sense of usage when applied to the infamous ‘monkey’ used to hold cannonballs, whether of brass or other material.

As to the old myth about the balls coming off a brass monkey when cold, this is in almost every case discussed in terms of a pyramid of balls, which as we have discussed earlier is nonsense. That said, it might not be an impossibility for a brass monkey under very cold conditions to in fact grip the balls tightly enough to prevent their usage, if the balls were fitted tightly into their rack in the first place (as might be the case if the balls were new, and not whittled down by repeated ‘chipping of shot’). Certainly brass contraction and expansion is a problem for plumbers working with brass pipe, and special techniques must be used to deal with this (see: http://chestofbooks.com/home-improvemen ... art-9.html
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Re: cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Feb 13, 2009 2:41 am

searat wrote: Yes, I have seen your references before, and this is really a big part of the problem!
Searat, I would point out that Boudriot was an author that you recommended and when I went and checked in one of his books as a reference (the English translation of his Le Vaisseau de 74 Canons – perhaps you could tell me which of his books discusses the ones made of brass), I found nothing about triangular brass racks – according to him, at least in this book, they were made of wood.

But back to the main point. Your posting is all very interesting, and who can argue with the history of brass? But you are dancing around the main point. I’m still not from Missouri and I’m still not convinced. There is a difference between theory and fact and you have stated your theory as fact and without proof.
searat wrote: A Brass Monkey is a triangular rack, made of brass and bolted to the deck between the guns of any FRENCH-BUILT sailing warship built after about 1750 . . . If you refer to Jean Boudriot's books, he shows Brass Monkeys CLEARLY located on the decks of French-built frigates in both his scale drawings, . .
This quote, for example, which forms the base of your overall argument is stated as a matter of fact. A proof of this statement would require evidence that the brass triangular rack actually existed. My goodness! If every French-built sailing warship built after about 1750 contained your so-called “brass monkeys,” there should be bunches of them still lying around somewhere or at least their descriptions in reliable sources. You have not provided the documentation of this which I requested above. What you have provided is reasons why you think they should have existed, but not proof that they did.

So as a starting point how about citing one credible and verifiable example of their existence. It would be helpful, for example, if you could provide – book, page, and sentence(s) – to document your claim, “shows Brass Monkeys CLEARLY located on the decks of French-built frigates.” That's BRASS, not wood or some other undisclosed material.
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Ken G – January 12, 2009
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Re: cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by searat » Fri Feb 13, 2009 3:03 am

I take it you did NOT examine ANY of the references I provided above. Please review those references FIRST before commenting further.
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Re: cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by searat » Fri Feb 13, 2009 3:17 am

In other words Ken, you need to either examine MY references, photographs and historical data, or provide some sort of alternative, also backed by references, and so far you have provided precisely nothing, either nautical, etymological, lexicological, or historical that would refute anything I have so far presented. What do you have? We await your reply.......
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Re: cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by searat » Fri Feb 13, 2009 6:51 am

I’ll tell you what. Let’s examine the references you depend on for your argument, and I will demonstrate, line by line, how they are either irrelevant, misinterpreted, or just flat out incorrect. I’ll start with your primary reference, the Haywood article, and I will comment in parentheses.

“The bulk of a warship's shot was carried in shot-lockers, which were located in the hold, and according to Lavery and others, featured separate compartments for different calibres. However, it is clear that some ready-use shot needed to be stored close to the gun, and it is worth examing just how was this done in the 17th-19th C sailing warship? In particular, was it ever stowed in "piles'? (no, it was not, for the reasons I explained earlier. Try the poolball test yourself!)
Lavery in Arming and Fitting of the English Man of War page 150 refers to 'a drawing dated 1690', showing shot kept in piles, and covered with canvas. (refers to, but does not show) This may appear in an article by Carr Laughton in Volume 10 of Mariner's Mirror, but I don't have access to this, so cannot confirm. (which is typical) Photographs in H Winter's book Die holländishce Zweidecker von 1660/1670 show shot contained in short racks or boxes secured to the bulwarks between the waist guns (which is a precursor to the ‘shot garland,’ and eventually, the ‘monkey’). Herman Ketting's book Prins Willem: een zeventiende-eeuwse Ostindieëvarder indicates that shot were on deck, by surrounding them with a coil or rope (the famously accurate and contemporary 1651 model of the ship, which can be seen in the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands, indicates nothing of the sort). If you think about it, substantial coils of rope were found everywhere on the upper deck of a sailing man-of-war, and the temporary placing of loose shot in an available coil would be inevitable (If you think, or know anything about it, there are NO coils of rope lying around on the decks of ship that are not about to be put to use. EVER! Coils of rope are slung up, either on belaying pins, or other attachment points at all times unless being put to immediate use). From this, it is a short jump to a grommet of heavier rope made up for the specific purpose (or a short jump to an inaccurate conclusion. Such a garland unsecured in any way is just as bad as leaving the cannonballs rolling around loose on the decks). 'Garland' was used in several technical senses, but two listed by Smyth's The Sailor's Word-Book are of interest:
A large rope grommet to place shot in on deck. Also in shore batteries, a band whether of iron or stone to retain shot together in their appointed place (this sounds a lot closer to a ‘monkey’).
I very much doubt that rope grommets were in use in Smyth's day, however it explains the use of the word 'garland' as in 'Shot-garland', when applied to a wooden shot-rack, on the bulwarks or one surrounding a hatchway (no, the term ‘garland’ is used because the balls are placed in a string or line, which resembles a garland, as in garland of flowers, beads, etc.). Lavery indicates the latter came into use following an order dated 1780. Röding in his Allgemeines Wörterbuch der Marine (1794) equates 'shot-garland' with German 'Kugelrechnen' and the northern languages all use words cognate with 'rack' for this item (Roding is a German, and simply equates or translates ‘shot garland’ into German as ‘shot rack,’ which of course, it is.). The French equivalent is given as 'Petit parquet pour les balles.' 'Parquet' is itself a diminutive derived from 'parc' meaning a 'pen' or 'enclosure'( this is also a lousy translation. The French for shot rack is ‘Parcs a’ boulets.’ The translation given here actually means ‘small enclosure for a ball, or dance). In other words, a dance floor, not a shot rack. Bad translation!).
Plate XXXIX in the second volume of Jean Boudriot's Le Vaisseau de 74 Canons shows an arrangement found in French ships. A triangular 'Parc' is placed between the guns, containing ten balls...the resisting 'laths' or 'tringles' (a ‘tringle’ is a curtain rod in French, and has nothing to do with a shotrack. Once again, bad translation) are about three feet long, made of wood, and hollowed out so water will not collect and cause the shot to rust (In this particular model, or ship, this may be so). The triangles have the base towards the bulwarks and the point inboard (and these are indeed ‘monkeys’). Boudriot shows these on all decks of his 74. An excellent illustration is seen in a drawing showing a cannon being aimed, with the gunlayer adjusting the quoin under the breech. [Fig 412 p. 131 Le Vaisseau de 74 Canons, Bande 4] However another Frenchman, Rear Admiral Missiessy, in his Installations des Vaisseaux (1798) shows the triangular frames on the upper deck, but linear shot-racks secured to the greater calibre of the guns on the gun-deck, or the relative inconvenience of using side-racks on the upper deck, where they would interfere with the placement of cleats, kevels and belaying-pin racks, and so on (which is more nonsense, as shot garlands, monkeys, and shot racks are all visible on the upper decks of French men of war of different classes. See my Boudriot references and photos). [The Missiessy engravings can be found in the NRJ, Volume 11, Number 4, together with an article by Dexter Dennis translating most of the technical terms. Unfortunately, Missiessy's Plate II has been chopped off, so that we cannot be sure what he called these triangular frames. There is absolutely no evidence that the frames used in French ships were made of anything else than wood (there is no evidence cited except this one particular model), or that they were called the French equivalent of 'monkeys', brass or otherwise (Of course not. They were called the same thing as all other types of shot racks in French, and that is ‘Parcs a’ boules,’ it was the ENGLISH who came up with the term ‘monkey,’ along with ‘shot garland’ and the rest).
Ten balls can be placed in one three-cornered tier having four on each side and one in the middle, [as illustrated by Boudriot], but if one can secure cannon balls in a triangular frame, like the frame used to set up the snooker balls, why not stack the balls into a compact pyramid? (because they will fall over the first time the ship heels over!!!) This was certainly done on land [note Smyth's reference to shore-batteries] (but NEVER done at sea). We could have a lower tier of six balls arranged three a side; a second tier of three; and one ball topping the thing off. On land, a low pyramid of this sort would be stable of its own weight, and a retaining frame probably not be necessary. At first thought, this does not seem practical in a ship at sea, which could pitch and roll (first, and last thought too, so why is this even mentioned??). However, one author who illustrates such a pyramid was the redoubtable Portia Takakjian in her 'Anatomy' of the frigate Essex, page 79 (who was a ship modeler, who based her model and drawings on very little more than the very limited information and sketches available in the Library of Congress that have no information about fittings. In other words, she made it up!). Her sketch shows a twelve-pounder, with 20 shot [if I have got the arithmetic right] piled in a four tier pyramid. Portia was a careful researcher and may have had a solid basis for showing this method, and she may have had evidence that things were done that way in the Federal Navy (but in fact, she didn’t!). On the List, we have folk who are very knowledgeable about American sources, and perhaps someone can confirm Portia's idea (No, they can’t! Just step aboard USS Constitution, and you won’t see anything of the sort, either piled cannonballs, or monkeys either, as they were NOT in American usage!). FWIW, I have seen no evidence that triangular frames of this sort were used in ships of the Royal Navy (they weren’t unless the ship was captured from the French, where they were in very common usage!).
I hesitate to raise this again, since it is all too likely to lead to endless and profitless further discussion, and almost certainly this will again fail to produce any contemporary citation supporting the existence of the type of the item under discussion...but it is relevant to the question, so reluctantly we will touch on it. The modern notion that iron shot were stored on a sort of cake-stand arrangement called a 'brass monkey' was perpetuated by, and indeed possibly originated with, Bill Beavis and Richard G. McClosky, the authors of Salty Dog Talk-:Granada Publishing, Adlard Coles Limited (1983) which offers:
Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. It is said that the expression dates back to the 17th century when 'ready use' cannon balls were stacked on metal trays called "monkeys". These had dished recesses so that each cannon ball was kept in position just touching its neighbor and in calm weather more balls sold be stacked on top to form a pyramid. The monkey's were generally made of iron but in some ships brass monkeys were used for ceremonial reasons. Normally, the arrangement was satisfactory, except in very cold weather when the different coefficient of expansion meant that the brass trays would contract more speedily than the iron causing the pyramid to collapse and the balls to fall off the monkey
This concept has in the past led to learned discussions about the underlying physics, and as indicated above, in comparisons of the coefficients of thermal expansion of brass and iron, but IMO, 'brass monkey' in the Beavis/Mcclosky sense is strictly a modern invention....within the past twenty years or so. It may be argued that absence of proof does not constitute proof of absence, but all I can say is that, having taken part in a number of electronic discussions on this subject over the past few years, and repeatedly asked for any contemporary citation supporting its existence in the 18th or 19th C, not a single example has ever been offered ...not one! (the reference cited has been repeated many times, and is of course, wrong in almost every particular, as has already been discussed. No ‘trays,’ no ‘pyramids,’ not on a ship! It does not however, originate in 1983, nor does it originate with Beavis/McClosky either. The USN reference goes back to at least the 1960’s, and it is also wrong in most particulars (see: http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq107.htm ) (I have already explained WHY the term ‘brass monkey’ would not be cited prior to that time, as a result of various obscenity and morality issues, combined with the lack of dictionary inclusions, and why this also is so. Finally, there is no mention or discussion of the problems of RUST, which of course is the main reason to make a monkey of brass, rather than iron, or some other substance. ‘Ceremonial’ is MOST certainly not the issue!).”

So you see, Haywood can pretty much be written off in EVERY particular regarding the question of ‘monkeys’ (brass or otherwise), or anything else regarding cannonball storage during the Napoleonic wars….
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Re: cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Feb 13, 2009 7:38 am

searat wrote: A Brass Monkey is a triangular rack, made of brass and bolted to the deck between the guns of any FRENCH-BUILT sailing warship built after about 1750 . . . If you refer to Jean Boudriot's books, he shows Brass Monkeys CLEARLY located on the decks of French-built frigates in both his scale drawings, . .
Searat, You’re the supposed nautical historian and you’ve made the above claim, which is counter to what the rest of nautical world seems to say, as far as I can make out. Of course, that doesn’t mean you haven’t made some wonderful discovery. But if you make a contrary claim, it seems to me that the burden of proof is on you not me. You say Boudriot says brass. If he didn’t say that, then that is an indication that you are playing loose with the facts. And if some of your ‘facts’ are right and some of your ‘facts’ are wrong, well . . .

And, incidentally, I don't know why you wasted all that time arguing 1) against the pyramid theory – I'm not really arguing for it (see the many postings above) – and 2) for the triangular rack (I agreed that the wooden rack appeared in the Boudriot translation I read). And the bulk of the information you have provided above seems totally irrelevant to the point I am making – did the triangular brass rack exist?

I took the time to check one of Boudriot's books (see above) and found that he didn’t say brass in that book when discussing the triangular rack. I don’t have the time or inclination to read every book he wrote or go searching through the stacks for others, if they are even available. So, as a very simple test for you to prove that you are not playing loose with the facts, you ought to point out to me and the rest of the Wordwizard audience where Boudriot says – book, page, sentence(s) – BRASS as you claim he did. If you can do that, then it that would give me some confidence in your scholarship. On the other hand, if you can’t or won’t, that would tend to undermine your credibility and make me believe that you are perhaps just another bullshitter! Of course, if you now realize that you were mistaken about your Boudriot claim, you could also come clean and tell us that.
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Ken G – February 12, 2009
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Re: cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by searat » Fri Feb 13, 2009 2:59 pm

As you claim some relationship with Missouri, there is no point in showing you anything if you won't LOOK! I have given you references, but you can't be bothered to examine them. I have given you physical experiments, which you can do yourself, but you can't be bothered. Since that is the case, you really have nothing to further say on this subject. You have no credible references at all, as is seen in the one you provided by Haywood, which I systematically tore to shreds, and the same is true of every other reference on the subject that is on the internet. Therefore, if you are going to see anything contrary to what is now generally posted, you will HAVE to look in a book, and more than one, and dealinmg with more than one subject, and in more than one language! As I have stated and proved repeatedly, the French (and Boudriot is very emphatically French, and does not speak or write in English) do not distinguish between different types of shot racks, and never did. As far as they are concerned, they are all simply 'shot racks.' The Boudriot reference you quote (The 74 gun ship) is an excellent set of three volumes, which exhaustively goes through the construction and operation of a hypothetical design, based on research of as many different ships as Boudriot could find records for. But at the end of the day, it is about a single ship, and there were many different ships in the French navy, of many different types, and most, if not all were quite different from one another in their level and quality of fitout (and often changed as well). If you don't understand that, then you will not be able to get past your single reference. Boudriot has written MANY books, yet you rely on one, as if this is the only statement he ever made on the subject, and there is no-one else who ever looked at the subject either, and that is just not true. So really, all I can say at this point is to go away and READ my references, EXAMINE the photos, pick up a book or two about word origins and dictionaries, and then you will have something of a suitable background to deal with this.
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Re: cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by Wizard of Oz » Fri Feb 13, 2009 10:19 pm

.. oh dear searat you lead me into false hope that finally someone had the time and research resources to challenge Ken .. but Ken has set a reasonable challenge and sadly you did not rise to that challenge .. a simple one line answer giving ONE reference .. like this >>

Book, author, page, paragraph

.. as we say mate put up or shut up ..

WoZ waiting on the deck
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Feb 13, 2009 10:44 pm

Searat, Such points as your physical experiments, etc. and your discussion of the existence of cannon ball racks, etc. are irrelevant as you try to refute that which I am not arguing for: Your discourse on stacks of cannonballs on ships, etc., here, serves no logical purpose that I can see other than to obfuscate the conversation – they may or may not have existed and really have nothing to do with the point of whether the triangular brass rack was real or not. And why spend all that time arguing as if I don’t believe that triangular racks existed when I agreed they did when I checked out the Boudriot translation?

You said to me, “You have no credible references at all.” I don’t think you get the logic here. I don’t really need references to disprove your claims. It is you who are the “odd man out” and who are trying to prove something that the rest of the world disagrees with – the origin of the expression COLD ENOUGH TO FREEZE THE BALLS OFF A BRASS MONKEY. And it is you who are saying the expression originated with the triangular brass rack on French ships. The burden of proof is on you, not me!

Look, it’s real simple. Did the brass version of the triangular rack exist or not? And if it didn't your argument collapses, although it still has other opportunities to collapse after that. And I have little disagreement that those made of wood did exist. However, your initial statement “If you refer to Jean Boudriot's books, he shows Brass Monkeys CLEARLY” was at the forefront of your argument. I initially spent quite a bit of time researching the subject including your Boudriot claim by doing a rather thorough internet search as well as picking my ass up and going into stacks of the Colorado State University Morgan library. Most of the irrelevant material you discuss in your pointless arguments, I had already seen. But the only thing that really matters is did these brass babies exist, not should that have existed, as seemed to be one of your major thrusts.

The primary proof of their existence, seems to me, would be physical remnants, and it seems that oodles of them should be lying around in museums and collections all over the world – but, mysteriously, that doesn’t seem to be the case, although there seem to be no shortage of examples of the linear wooden shot racks/garlands. I wonder why that is. And don’t tell me they were all melted down for the brass because there are plenty of other brass objects which could have been melted into near extinction, that we have no trouble finding.

In the absence of seeing and feeling the brass rack, the next best line of proof must rely on respectable sources. After familiarizing myself with the basics and chugging through everything I could find on the internet, I went to your referenced author #1 and found no confirmation of the triangular brass rack in that one particular book of his. Now I’m not an ostrich, I’m actually a scientist, and if provided with references that unambiguously show that this brass rack existed, I would agree that it did. But I refuse to spend any more of my time on this, as I did sitting in the library for several hours (the translation of Boudriot’s work was very interesting, nevertheless), until you prove your credibility, which you haven’t, and certainly not in the area of logical argument and your above jumbled discussion and dump of extraneous material.
searat wrote: Boudriot has written MANY books, yet you rely on one, as if this is the only statement he ever made on the subject, and there is no-one else who ever looked at the subject either, and that is just not true.
I readily admit that I only looked at the one Boudriot book and that’s why we need your help in checking out your credibility and proving that you are not just another amateur-armchair-revisionist-naval historian. SHOW US THE MONEY! No! Not the other money – don't keep changing the subject – THIS MONEY!

So, please complete the questionnaire below and I will proceed or not depending on your response:

SERAT CREDIBILITY ACID TEST
searat wrote: If you refer to Jean Boudriot's books, he shows Brass Monkeys CLEARLY located on the decks of French-built frigates in both his scale drawings, . . .
1) My above statement is:

a) TRUE and I stand by it.

b) FALSE and I admit it is a fabrication.

2) If your answer is (a), true, provide the book, page, and sentence(s), illustration number(s) where you say Boudriot shows this to be true.

3) If your answer is (b), FALSE, you are guilty of falsifying facts to buttress your argument, a fatal credibility offense in my view, and I would see no point in wasting any further time chasing down your references.
_____________________________________

Answering (1a) and (2) would go a long way to buttress your weakened believability, after repeatedly refusing to answer my very simple and direct question – one that should be a snap for the amateur naval historian you purport to be with all sorts of naval history at your fingertips – and in addition barraging us with a smoke screen of mostly extraneous material. And, of course, if you answered these questions, I would definitely LOOK, as you suggested, and check out the Boudriot source you have guided me to. And if I found that he did indeed show the triangular rack was made of brass, ARGUMENT OVER! And then, seeing you as teller of truth, a gentleman and a scholar, a man of integrity, I would, out of curiosity, probably check out your other references, if I could find them. On the other hand, if you don’t show me that Boudriot did, in fact, show what you said he showed – he shows Brass Monkeys CLEARLY – I would conclude that you were a fabricator of ‘facts,’ and so much for your credibility, and see you around pal!

Oh, and thanks for your suggestion to “pick up a book or two about word origins and dictionaries, and then you will have something of a suitable background to deal with this.” It is a subject I am completely unfamiliar with.

And here’s a couple of suggestions for you. Your ‘revelation’ would really be big news in the world of phrase etymology since nearly every top-notch (and not so top-notch) word maven in the world has given this one a shot and come up with nothing like your airtight conclusion (see many postings above). Why don’t you (or why haven’t you or whoever came up with it) published this in a peer-reviewed journal or somewhere to be exposed to the light of day and scrutiny by folks who do this sort of thing for a living – it could make you (or whoever) famous in the field, if you (or whovever) are not already so? And, oh yes, you might also want to look up the phrase folk etymology when you get a break from your navel [sic] research. (<:)
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Ken G – February 13, 2009
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