Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lesson For Today

I am an educator by nature and profession. Every so often I feel compelled to pass on a little learning to my audience. Today's lesson is on the origin of an old saying.
In the old days of wooden ships and iron men, it was necessary to keep a good supply of cannon balls near the cannons. 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 or rolling out from under the other layers.

The solution was a metal plate with 16 round indentations, similar to the tray that holds pool balls on a billiard table. This plate was called, for reasons unknown, a Monkey. But that led to another problem.

If the plate were to be iron, in the salty air at sea the iron balls would quickly rust to it. The solution to the rusting problem was to make the plates of brass.

But that led to yet another problem. Brass contracts to a greater extent and at a higher rate than iron when chilled. Consequently, when the temperature dropped too far, the brass tray's indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannon balls would no longer stay in the monkey - they would come off the tray and roll around on the deck.

Which led to the saying "It's cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey."

And all this time you thought that was just a vulgar expression.
Class dismissed...


Old NFO said...

LOL, we were actually taught that in boot camp (Navy boot camp of course)... :-)

CenTexTim said...

You mean the story is that old...?