This morning I received a mail with the old story that "to freeze the balls of a brass monkey" means that the canon balls kept on ships got so cold that they fell off the brass monkey I.e.the metal plate that held the balls.
Here is the text in full:
DID YOU KNOW THIS?
It was necessary to
keep a good supply of cannon balls near the cannon on old war ships. But how to
prevent them from rolling about the deck was the problem. The storage method
devised was to stack them as a square based pyramid, with one ball on top, resting
on four, resting on nine, which rested on sixteen.
Thus, a supply of 30
cannon balls could be stacked in a small area right next to the cannon. There
was only one problem -- how to prevent the bottom layer from sliding/rolling
from under the others.
The solution was a
metal plate with 16 round indentations, called, for reasons unknown, a Monkey.
But if this plate were made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it..
The solution to the rusting problem was to make them of brass - hence, Brass Monkeys.
realize that brass contracts much more and much faster than iron when chilled.
Consequently, when the temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations
would shrink so much that the iron cannon balls would come right off the
Thus, it was quite
literally, cold enough to freeze the balls off a
brass monkey. And all this time, folks thought that was just a vulgar
You must send this
fabulous bit of historical knowledge to at least a few intellectual friends.
However a quick check on snopes reveals that this was not the case. More likely is the story that Wikipedia gives and that is the three Chinese monkeys sitting in a row and sometimes with a fourth holding it's genitals.