Re: What is it? LXXVII

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writes:

From the rather small niche of black powder historians, the story comes this way:
Anyone who physically handled cannon balls or powder was known as a "ball monkey" or "powder monkey". The term "powder monkey" is still used today. "Ball monkey" seems to have been lost.
On board most armed ships of the British fleet were triangular brass racks - low bars of brass forged into an equilateral triangle - mounted to the decks, into which to stack cannon balls in the familiar pyramid fashion. This, to ready the balls for quick access.
Although the "brass monkeys" were only an inch or two high, the stacks made within them were quite stable -- until the temperature dropped very, very cold. At that point, due to different coefficients of expansion between brass and iron, the balls came tumbling off their racks.
Thus, "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey". Of course, the vulgar connotations came quite soon after. <G>
LLoyd
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Unfortunately, the above is *NOT* factual. It makes a good story, but --- 1) there are no authoritative references to those triangular frames as a monkey (or variant of the word). I ran this down with several professional military historians. 2) work out the thermal 'coefficient of expansion/contraction' for the materials involved -- the fit 'at room temperature' would have to be incredibly tight for the differences over, say 100 degrees F, to cause the pyramid to tumble.
The "most reliable" history of the phrase traces it to cheap brass castings from India, of "seated" monkeys (be it the classical "three monkeys" poses, or others) imported to England and other Northern climes, with the subsequent weather extremes leading to stress fractures at the relevant point in the anatomy.
NOTE: I believed the 'naval' version to be the accurate story for many years. had to do a bunch of digging to attempt to verify, when a career military (artillery) person questioned it. Come to find there _wasn't_ any factual basis. Despite the very plausible sound of it.
A few years later, "Cecil Adams" (of 'The Straight Dope') published his research on the matter -- with the results cited above, with a note along the lines of: 'improbable as it seems, this phrase is a literal description ...'
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Gareth Owen wrote:

That one is pure bull shite. It claimed that the racks the pyramids of cannonballs were stacked on were made of brass and called "brass monkeys". The story goes that differential thermal contraction in cold weather would be enough to make the balls fall off them. No mention of why they wouldn't fall off in hot weather from the motions of a rolling ship. Hah!
Jeff
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The stacks did become slack during extreme heat. The brass monkey became looser. Only when it tightened excessively did the balls begin to roll off.
Keep in mind that a triangular pyramid stack of spheres is stable to +-60 degrees of roll. That's a heavy sea.
LLoyd
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From the rather small niche of black powder historians, the story comes this way:
Anyone who physically handled cannon balls or powder was known as a "ball monkey" or "powder monkey". The term "powder monkey" is still used today. "Ball monkey" seems to have been lost.
On board most armed ships of the British fleet were triangular brass racks - low bars of brass forged into an equilateral triangle - mounted to the decks, into which to stack cannon balls in the familiar pyramid fashion. This, to ready the balls for quick access.
Although the "brass monkeys" were only an inch or two high, the stacks made within them were quite stable -- until the temperature dropped very, very cold. At that point, due to different coefficients of expansion between brass and iron, the balls came tumbling off their racks.
Thus, "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey". Of course, the vulgar connotations came quite soon after. <G>
LLoyd
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| > | > The stacks did become slack during extreme heat. The brass monkey became | > looser. Only when it tightened excessively did the balls begin to roll | > off. | > | > Keep in mind that a triangular pyramid stack of spheres is stable to +-60 | > degrees of roll. That's a heavy sea. | > | | From the rather small niche of black powder historians, the story comes this | way: | | Anyone who physically handled cannon balls or powder was known as a "ball | monkey" or "powder monkey". The term "powder monkey" is still used today. | "Ball monkey" seems to have been lost. | | On board most armed ships of the British fleet were triangular brass racks - | low bars of brass forged into an equilateral triangle - mounted to the | decks, into which to stack cannon balls in the familiar pyramid fashion. | This, to ready the balls for quick access. | | Although the "brass monkeys" were only an inch or two high, the stacks made | within them were quite stable -- until the temperature dropped very, very | cold. At that point, due to different coefficients of expansion between | brass and iron, the balls came tumbling off their racks. | | Thus, "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey". Of course, the | vulgar connotations came quite soon after. <G> | | LLoyd | | | | |
Further to all the above, take a look at this:
http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq107.htm
-- PDQ
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And where is this etymology traced from? If you can find me a single contemporary citation, I'll believe you, but until then, I still say "back formation"
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http://www.snopes.com/language/stories/brass.htm
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Lloyd Sponenburgh:

I said *prove* it. I have already posted cites refuting this answer.
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Mark Brader, Short words good; sesquipedalian verbalizations undesirable
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Lloyd E. Sponenburgh wrote:

The thermal coeficients of expansion are:
Brass: 11*10^-6 in/in/deg F
Iron: 7*10^-6 in/in/deg F
The differential is 4*10^-6 in/in/deg F
Thus, a pile of cannonballs and a rack say 4 feet on a side dropping in temperature from say 70 F to -20 F would have an overall differential length change of
4 * 12 * 4e-6 * 90 = 0.017"
Now LLoyd, please tell the group what you think that rack must have looked like, and just how seventeen thou of change in a four foot long dimension made the balls fall off it.
I have learned that the only person who is a bigger fool than one who is wrong and can't see it.....is that person who continues to debate him.
So, I hereby declare you correct and resign from any further discussion of cannonballs and brass racks with you.
Relish your victory, LLoyd.
Jeff
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Jeff Wisnia wrote:

Must have been those tight tolerances... :)
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On Tue, 06 Sep 2005 14:32:58 -0500, Duane Bozarth

Tight as a female brass monkey's... ahh never mind.
George
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How much movement would a pile of "one deep" have? :-)
Cannon shot was not stored in piles, but in "shot garlands" which were planks with a row of holes.
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And their names are.....?
HINT: The earliest known reference to "brass monkey" was in 1857, and it had nothing to do with cannons. The phrase was "freeze the tail of a brass monkey."
p.s. Mark gave you references to look at, which you ignored.
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writes:

being casual about your opinions unless you at least pay attention.
LLoyd
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Let's go though this, since you claim I wasn't paying attention..
Mark said

You said

Mark said:

You said:

Mark replied:

To summarize, Mark posted some specific references that clearly give evidence that your etymology is not "definite" but an urban legend. You read them, (as you just claimed) yet you persisted in stating that there is a definite etymology that disagrees with those references.
And when challenged, you refer to some "black powder historians" that have no names, and no document, and no web site to back up those facts.
When did I not pay attention? Please correct me....
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Bruce Barnett wrote:

I'm really beginning to feel guilty about getting all this started with what I intended as just a silly jest about the brass balls on the "What is it" Item 436.
If SWMBO perchanced to read this thread she'd no doubt voice her disgust by calling all of us "Tech Tools", which is what she calls me when I perseverate endlessly about some inconsequential subject. :-)
Jeff
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On Tue, 06 Sep 2005 16:21:13 GMT, "Lloyd E. Sponenburgh"

You may want to read any of the 20 Patrick O'Brian novels to learn that shipboard artillery was not handled this way. Having done extensive research, he knew a little of what he was talking about and dealt with the subject fairly extensively in his books.
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I already did know that. But triangular racks for dress did (and still do) exist. Used for presentation, not battle.
LLoyd
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    I was afraid that this was where this was leading. :-)

    If you want support, try this URL:
    http://www.snopes.com/language/stories/brass.htm
Snopes makes a career out of investigating urban legends, determining the truth or falsehood of each one, and has set up an excellent website covering them. This is the sub-page dealing with this particular one.
    One facet which he does not cover is the actual difference in the thermal expansion rates for brass and cast iron.
    First off -- bronze would be more likely at sea than brass, but I'll list both:
18.50e-6/deg C    Brass, ordinary yellow 21.16e-6/deg C    Admiralty bronze 11.20e-6/deg C    Cast Iron, gray
    Now -- let's make some assumptions about the size of the supposed "brass monkey", and the range of temperatures covered by a ship from tropics to arctic sailing conditions:
1)    Low temperature is perhaps on the order of -50F. Below that,     the sea would tend to freeze over, even short term.
2)    High temperature is perhaps on the order of 120F.
    For a range of 170F, or 94.44 C. (Let's call it 100 C for     convenience.
3)    Let's say that the "brass monkey" was 24" maximum dimension     (and the stack of cannonballs would have to be somewhat smaller,     but let's call it identical for convenience.)
4)    So -- over that range of temperatures:      the brass would expand 100 x 18.50e-6 x 24 = 0.037"      the bronze would expand 100 x 21.16e-6 x 24 = 0.051"      the CI would expand 100 x 11.20e-6 x 24 = 0.027"
    or a total of 0.024" difference in size -- about 1/40th of an     inch, one turn of your micrometer thimble, which is hardly     likely to be enough to nudge any of the balls out of their     pockets.
    Enjoy,         DoN.
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