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    Re: Sextant frames
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2009 May 22, 21:25 -0700

    Jim, you wrote:
    "Historically, the brass monkey was what supported the local store of 
    cannonballs. I think that the assertion was that in extreme cold, the 
    cannonballs would shrink enough to fall off the supporting monkey."
    
    Yeah, this is a "tall tale" of language and etymology. There was no such 
    supporting frame called a brass monkey.
    
    And:
    " I can't imagine that such a minuscule change would affect the static 
    stability of a cannonball on the monkey.
    Sorry to throw cold water on a colorful phrase."
    
    Yep. Good call. The physics is clearly wrong. It makes no sense.
    
    In case you're curious, the linguistics is also wrong. If you search through 
    Google Books, for example, for the phrase "brass monkey" in the period before 
    the 20th century, the most common phrase is "freeze the tail off a brass 
    monkey", which fits nicely for this 'tall tale'. ;-) And by the way, none of 
    those old book references mention cannon balls!
    
    The thing that's "cute" about this particular folk etymology is that it's 
    trying to suggest that the balls in question are not the obvious balls that 
    the phrase implies, as if to say that a seemingly coarse expression is only 
    coarse in the dirty mind of the reader. In fact, they probably are just those 
    balls since the other variants of this "freeze the ---- off a brass monkey" 
    usually involve the monkey's body parts. 
    
    Here's the lowdown on this one from snopes.com:
    http://www.snopes.com/language/stories/brass.asp
    
    -FER
    PS: and btw, in the same maritime language category, "posh" doesn't come from 
    "port out, starboard home"... but "btw" does come from "by the way". :-)
    
    
    
    
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