from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • adjective idiomatic, of the weather Very cold.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun a metal stand that formerly held cannon balls on sailing ships


from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From the phrase cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. According to the U.S. Naval Historical Center, which cites the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, 'the first recorded use of the term "brass monkey" appears to dates[sic] to 1857 when it was used in an apparently vulgar context by C.A. Abbey in his book Before the Mast, where on page 108 it says "It would freeze the tail off a brass monkey."' A number of false etymologies have been suggested. For more information, see Brass monkey on Wikipedia.Wikipedia.


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  • After hearing today that this was originally a nautical term, I looked this up in the OED. There's no "brass monkey," but under "monkey" it says:

    32. cold enough to freeze the balls (also tail, etc.) off a brass monkey: see BRASS n.

    So, here's BRASS, n.:

    Add: II. 7. brass monkey weather (see MONKEY n. 13 b).

    So, back to MONKEY n. 13 b.:

    1650 Articles Rendition Edenb.-Castle 4, 28 Short Brasse Munkeys alias Dogs. 10 Iron Munkeys. 1663 J. HEATH Flagellum (1672) 103 Twenty-eight Brass Drakes called Monkeys.

    Well, that pissed me off. So here's what I heard in conversation today:

    The plate on which cannonballs were stored was brass, and called a monkey. Cannonballs were made of lead. So the two metals had different contraction points, and one would contract before the other, and the lead balls would go rolling off the monkey. Hence, "freeze the balls off a brass monkey." I don't know how true this is. And the person didn't know if there was any relationship between other "monkey" terms involving guns, such as "powder monkey."

    November 30, 2007

  • C_b, you're about the only person in the world who'd become pissed off at not finding "brass monkey" in the OED.

    November 30, 2007

  • Well...?! Why isn't it there?!

    Actually--no, I was pissed off that it said "see brass," and when I did, it said "see monkey." Which said "See brass." THAT pissed me off.

    November 30, 2007

  • Oh! Well, that would irritate the stuffing out of me too! Although uselessness has been known to do much the same on this very site. ;-)

    November 30, 2007

  • Who, me? I've certainly fallen victim to the old infinite loop of recursion trap multiple times. See also: gullible.

    November 30, 2007

  • I've certainly heard the expression "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey." Along with "cold enough for two pairs of shoelaces," etc. I don't think we mount brass monkeys on cannons in Australia. Usually we elect them to parliament and pay them thousands a year.

    November 30, 2007

  • No. No I don't believe I will see gullible, uselessness. I wasn't born yesterday, you know.

    See brass monkey.

    November 30, 2007

  • The problem is that M has been revised for the third edition and B hasn't. They've put a link in the new M entry to what's going to be in the B entry once they get there—many years away, at the present rate. In the meantime, Oxford experts debunk the traditional story; and greater detail (but no ultimate explanation) is here.

    May 27, 2009

  • This seems to be the translation of a Hebrew pun on a Hebrew phrase.

    Hebrew text: PeLeTZ + K'Foo = shiver (compare English palsy) + frozen

    Hebrew pun: P'LiZ + KoF = brass monkey

    Treating P as B in Arabic, P'LiZ KoF => balls (k)off ..., hence

    "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey."

    June 18, 2009

  • The Wordnet definition is incorrect. Cannonballs were never on 'Brass Monkeys'. The original use of Brass Monkey was in the 1850's to describe weather so hot that it would melt the feet or tail off of a brass monkey. In the late 1800's it became an Americanism for cold weather.

    1888 - Freezing the Tail off a brass monkey.

    1889 book of Americanisms - Freeze the nose off

    1852 - refers to people from India who worship the Monkey God, keeping brass monkeys in their houses.

    1852 - hot enough to melt the nose off of.

    1847 has 'melt the nose off'

    1848 was the beginning of the modern era for India, and the English and Indian cultures mixed.

    I suspect that coincides with Brass Monkeys appearing in the English language.

    My favourite reference is the Prince Vance story.

    Recently, Brass Monkey refers to an alcoholic drink. The Beastie Boys had a song about it.

    December 31, 2012

  • I thought I'd look up the 'brasse munkey' spelling mentioned below.

    An Iron Monkey is part of a pile driving machine known as a Gin. (which is short for Engine)

    " Gin in mechanics a machine for driving piles fitted with a windlass and winches at each end where eight or nine men heave and round which a rope is reeved that goes over the wheel at the top 1 one end of this rope is seized to an iron monkey that hooks to a beetle of different weights according to the piles they are to drive being from eight to thirteen hundred weight and when hove up to across piece near the wheel it unhook the monkey and lets the beetle fall on the upper end of the pile and forces the same into ground then the monkey's own weight over hauls the windlass in order for its being hooked again to the beetle See the article Engine " -A New and Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, Volume 2 page 1437

    1763 ( MDCCLXIII)

    if you read the ENGINE definition on page 1075, an engine is any compound device which gives a mechanical advantage, ie, gears plus levers, gears and pulleys, levers and pulleys, etc..

    this definition is then copied word for word by another dictionary, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

    July 10, 2013