Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's a Bit "Brassy".....

My UK (and Commonwealth?) friends will instantly know what I mean...    "It's a bit brassy" basically means that it's cold!

I went for a six mile hilly circuit run this morning and I'm guessing that it was somewhere around 20 F (-7C). Beautifully sunny but very windy the wind chills were probably single digits Farenheit..  I layered-up and wore my beany hat and gloves and was soon toasty warm once I started working.

For my non-Brit friends, "It's a bit brassy" is actually short for "It's cold enough to freeze the balls of a brass monkey!".   Before my colonial friends start envisioning small metal primates down on all fours looking for their cold little spehrical gonads, I should explain the supposed origin of the phrase....

Back in the 18th and early 19th centuries, when Britannia still ruled the waves and we Brits were fond of lobbing cannonballs at Napoleon's fleet, we needed somewhere to store the aforementioned projectiles that would prevent them from rolling all over the deck of HMS Victory and other ships of the realm.   The solution to the problem was a pyramidal structure, with a base typically made out of brass that was known (for some unknown reason) as a "monkey".  Supposedly it looked something like this:

The story goes that when the weather got really cold the brass contracted, causing the cannonballs to fall off, hence "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey".

[As a footnote I now need to potentially spoil the whole story because I took a look at Wikipedia and there are now a lot of historians that doubt this origin of the phrase and now think that it originated elsewhere:
  • The first recorded use of freezing a "brass monkey" dates from 1857, appearing in C.A. Abbey, Before the Mast, p. 108: "It would freeze the tail off a brass monkey".
Ernest said, "It would freeze the balls off a brass monkey — that's how cold it gets."
Some killjoy even did the math on the coefficient of expanison of brass and ran physics experiments to demonstrate that the popular derivation of the phrase couldn't be true..   Ah well.....]

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