Wednesday, 11 May 2011


During my formative years, a common expression in our house to describe a chilly day was 'it's cold as charity and that's pretty chilly' but there was an alternative.

My mother wasn't normally vulgar in her remarks so during that rather short period of innocence which I went through as a child, I was somewhat taken aback when hearing her complain about the cold temperature during a particularly severe winter as being 'cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey'. Sounds very rude doesn't it? I certainly thought it was at the time but it seems that I did my Mother an injustice. It is in fact a very innocent expression with no reference to bodily parts whatsoever. Let me enlighten you, should you require enlightening that is.

Our seafaring ancestors needed to keep a good supply of cannon balls near the cannons on old war ships without them rolling about the deck. They were stacked with sixteen balls at the bottom, nine on top of those, then four and finally one on the top of the pyramid totalling thirty in all but if the bottom sixteen rolled about ... disaster.

The solution was a metal plate with sixteen round dents in it to hold the bottom layer in place. For some reason the plate was called a Monkey. To prevent rusting, this needed to be made from brass so they were known as 'Brass Monkeys'.

However, if the temperature dropped dramatically, the brass dents would shrink and the cannon balls would roll off the monkey.
So it was 'cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey'.

Sorry for doubting you Mum.

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