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Brass Monkeys

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on December 15, 2010 at 13:06

In Reply to: Brass Monkeys posted by Alan on December 15, 2010 at 11:12:

: Brass Monkeys -

: Some phrases, in Cockney at least, arent literal translations, but based on "sounds like". For example San Fairy Anne, which sounds like the French Ca ne fait rien.

: Is it possible that because the English were a sea-faring nation that the phrase is foreign?

: For example: Manque de (Bras), Arms missing each other/ flapping around? (I'm not saying thats the answer I'm just using as an illustration)

"San Fairy Ann" isn't anything to do with Britain being a seafaring nation. It arose in World War One as a direct result of the British Expeditionary Force having everyday contact with French (and French-speaking Belgian) people in the areas where they were based.

Of course it's always *possible* that an odd phrase with no obvious origin could be a garbled foreign phrase. But you'd have to make a good case for it - the more so as (a) the metaphor of monkeys suffering in the cold seems to be earlier than the phrase itself and (b) in its early days the monkey's body parts were as often melting in head as freezing in cold. See here:

As for "Manque de Bras" specifically, there are several problems with it. For one, it doesn't exist as a phrase in French. For two, it arose during a time in which - unlike WWI - working-class British and Americans had very little contact with French-speakers. For a third, if it *did* exist, and *did* mean "wandering around flapping one's arms against the cold" and *had* been adopted by British and American sailors in the same way as "san fairy ann", it would sound something like "mankdy bra", because the men who heard it would have no way of knowing that "bras" in French is spelt with a silent S. To them the word would be "bra".) There's no plausible way in which "mankdy bra" would mutate into "brass monkeys". (VSD)