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Believe it or Don't
© 2006

I found the following footnote in a book entitled The Pirates, In an Adventure with Ahab. The author, Gideon DeFoe, Vintage Books, a division of Random House, presents this explanation of a common American phrase: The time period for this reference is the early 1800's.

23. Cannons of the time required round cannonballs. It was important to store the cannonballs so that they could be of instant use when needed, yet not roll around the gun deck. The solution was to stack them up in a square-based pyramid next to the cannon. The top level of the stack had one ball, the next level down had four, the next had nine, the next sixteen, and so on. The only real problem was how to keep the bottom level from sliding out from under the weight of the higher levels. To do this, they devised a small brass plate ("brass monkey") with one rounded indentation for each cannonball in the bottom layer. Brass was used because the cannonballs wouldn't rust to it as they would to an iron one. When temperatures fall, brass contracts in size faster than iron. So as it got cold on the gun deck, the indentations in the brass monkey would get smaller than the iron cannonballs they were holding. If the temperature got cold enough, the bottom layer would pop out of the indentations, spilling the entire pyramid on the deck. Hence the expression, "cold enough the freeze the balls off a brass monkey".

Believe it or don't. RT