Brass monkey

Posted by James Briggs on April 17, 2000

In Reply to: Brass monkey posted by ESC on April 17, 2000

: : Does anyone know what the Beastie Boys are singing about in Brass Monkey? I confess, to this day, I have no idea - it came up in conversation the other day, and I just smiled and played along. Thanks for the help!

: If you'll type in "monkey" on the Search for a Phrase page, you'll find the phrase "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey." It says:

: "Of naval origin. The brass rails that held stacks of cannon balls on ships were called monkeys. When it was very cold the monkeys contracted and the balls fell off."

: But I still wouldn't say this expression in front of the preacher and his wife.

ESC is quite right about the preacher. Here's a bit more detail:

Monkey: It's cold enough to freeze the balls from a brass monkey is an expression with slightly genital overtones used to describe very cold weather. The truth is quite different. In the old wooden Men-of-War the powder was taken from the powder magazine to the gun decks by young boys. These boys were frequently orphans or waifs taken off the streets. The passages and stairs along which they carried the powder were so narrow that only boys, and not men, could get through. They were known as "powder monkeys"; the cannon balls were stored in brass rings near the guns themselves. By analogy these rings were called "brass monkeys". On cold days they would contract with the result that the cannon balls would be squeezed out of the ring - hence the saying.