cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey


cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey
Meaning
Very cold weather conditions.
Origin
Uncertain origin.
Some references say that the brass triangles that supported stacks of iron cannonballs on sailing ships were called monkeys and that in cold weather, as brass contracts more than iron, the triangles contracted sufficiently for the balls to fall off. No one has been able to provide evidence that such devices were called monkeys, or even that they existed. The Royal Navy records that, on their ships at least, planks with circular holes were used to store cannonballs. Also, a little geometry shows that a pyramid of balls will topple over if the base is tilted by more than 30 degrees. This movement is commonplace on sailing ships and it just isn't plausible that cannonballs were stacked this way. If we discount all of the above and for the sake of argument assume that the contraction of a brass triangle would cause a stack of balls to fall over, science comes to the rescue again. The coefficient of expansion of brass is 0.000019; that of iron is 0.000012. If the base of the stack were one metre long the drop in temperature needed to make the 'monkey' shrink relative to the balls by a millimetre, would be around 100 degrees Celcius. It is hardly credible that amount of change would have the slightest effect. In any case in weather like that the sailors would probably have better things to think about. I don't know what a nautical version of an urban myth is called, but whatever it is this story warrants its use.

Meaning and origin of phrases. 2013.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey — ► cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey informal extremely cold. [ORIGIN: from a type of brass rack or ‘monkey’ in which cannonballs were stored and which contracted in very cold weather, ejecting the balls.] Main Entry: ↑brass …   English terms dictionary

  • be cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey — British, very informal! brass monkey weather extremely cold weather. We were in Moscow, and it was cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey …   New idioms dictionary

  • monkey, cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass* —  Very cold …   A concise dictionary of English slang

  • brass monkey Brit. — brass monkey Brit. informal used to indicate extremely cold weather: cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. [from a type of brass rack or ‘monkey’ in which cannonballs were stored and which contracted in very cold weather, ejecting… …   English new terms dictionary

  • brass monkey — If it s brass monkey weather, or cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey, it is extremely cold …   The small dictionary of idiomes

  • brass monkey — /bras ˈmʌŋki/ (say brahs mungkee) phrase Colloquial 1. brass monkey weather, very cold weather. 2. cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey, extremely cold. {US (mid 19th century); with reference to a monkey figurine made of brass,… …   Australian English dictionary

  • brass monkey —    If it s brass monkey weather, or cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey, it is extremely cold.   (Dorking School Dictionary) …   English Idioms & idiomatic expressions

  • Brass monkey —   If it s brass monkey weather, or cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey, it is extremly cold …   Dictionary of English idioms

  • brass monkey weather — Noun. Very cold weather. From the phrase,  cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey . Cf. brassy and brass monkeys …   English slang and colloquialisms

  • brass-monkey weather —  1. Extremely cold weather.  2* cold enough to freeze the balls  ♦ off a brass monkey Very cold …   A concise dictionary of English slang