Posted by David Jose on August 18, 2003
In Reply to: Your logic vs. My beliefs posted by Kit on August 08, 2003
"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."
Furthermore it really doesn't make sense, as was pointed out before, to stack cannonballs on a ships deck. Even with a 'monkey' there's nothing keeping them from getting loose and wreaking havoc on deck. The amount of shrinkage between the brass tray and the iron shot would be so miniscule at that scale, you'd never be able to notice, no matter how cold it got. Making a specialized brass holding tray would be far too much work when a simple wooden frame (which is what they actually used and were affixed to the sides of the ship) could be made CHEAPER, faster, lighter, and could be cannibalized for parts while at sea.
On top of all that, solid shot was not the only or even primary munition fired. Canister, case, and grape shot would never fit in a monkey.
See also - the meaning and origin of 'Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey'.