Posted by Israel Cohen on May 13, 2001
cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey
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]
PeLeZ [brass] KooF [monkey]
What we have here is the transliterated sound of
"shudder-freeze" [probably in Arabic] followed by
its translation into English: brass monkey.