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Idle speculation and a plea for the OED

Posted by Word Camel on January 31, 2002

In Reply to: Re: BRASS MONKEY - term origin... and more posted by The Fallen on January 31, 2002

: : Can someone please tell me the origin of the term 'brass monkey'.

: : A 'brass monkey' is the term for the base for stacking cannon balls in pyramid shaped stacks onboard old sailing war ships. The base (brass monkey) was made of brass with indentations the size of the cannon balls. It prevented the cannon balls from rolling around when stacked.

: : Question: why is this base for stacking cannon balls called a 'brass monkey'?

: And similarly, is it connected with the young boys in charge of fetching the gunpowder being called "powder monkeys"?

I am wondering if the "Brass Monkey" doesn't have its explanation in the word "key" - meaning "any means of control, especially of entry and possession"? It would seem to fit the function of the brass monkey better than any reference to the Animal.

So all this makes me want to know more about the word "monkey".

I looked up the derivation of "monkey" in my dictionary and it says "possibly from Middle Low German Moneke, the name of the ape's son in Raynard the Fox." Frankly I am surprised to find Middle Low Germans discussing apes at all. Why were monkeys called monkeys?

Does anyone have an OED? R Berg?

Just a twisted thought from my fevered brain,

Camel