“Ooh, it’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey out there!”
I’ve heard these words uttered a few times over the past week because it’s got as cold as -8 here in the morning. And not much warmer in my office.
Brass monkeys, it is.
Which got me thinking: where on earth did that saying come from? So I did a little digging and discovered it’s an old naval saying, like so many of our common expressions.
Y’see, it goes thusly: ships in ye olden times had cannons to protect themselves against the likes of Cap’n Jack Sparrow, so they had many cannonballs knocking around — and the gunners wanted the cannonballs handy so they could fire them at Will.
But how to store them so they were easy to get to and stacked neatly out of the way?
The solution was a “brass monkey”: a small brass plate with rounded indentations for each cannonball on the bottom layer. Then they’d stack the balls into a pyramid shape.
Why brass? Because it doesn’t rust, so the cannonballs wouldn’t stick to it.
Brass contracts faster than iron when it gets really cold, so when the temperature dropped on deck, the brass monkey would shrink, and the cannonballs would pop out.
And so the phrase “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey” was born.
Or was it?
This is one of those sticky, but entirely untrue, stories. It’s a good story, to be sure; I enjoyed reading it, and I enjoyed writing it down for you.
But when I gave it more than surface thought, I became suspicious: why would they store cannonballs up on deck where they could rust, or clatter around the place on rough seas (because a little brass plate with dimples ain’t gonna stop them rolling around in a storm)?
The answer is: they wouldn’t.
Warships didn’t store cannonballs on deck all day every day on the off chance they might get into a fight. They weren’t constantly at war. Space was a premium on sailing ships and hundreds of men had hundreds of jobs on deck, so the last thing they wanted was round shot breaking free and terrorising their feet like coked up Tribbles on the rampage.
They were stored below decks, out of the elements, because diligent gunners wanted their shot as smooth as possible so it flew true to the target.
It’s really easy to just believe a good story. Checking stuff out takes effort. The stakes are low when it comes to the origin of a phrase like “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”… but they’re high when it comes to investing in business training or mentoring.
So do your due diligence – with me or anyone else you might want to learn from.
Even if you’ve not invested in anything with me, but you read these (admittedly super-valuable) emails every day, my advice still stands: don’t take everything I say at face value. I may be mistaken (it does happen occasionally). I may be right, but there may be an alternative that suits you better.
What I’m saying is: if you’re on the fence about me: good. Take your time. Check me out. Talk to my guys. I don’t want anyone Borrowing My Brain on a whim, or who’s looking for another magic bullet to solve all their problems.
I want people who are going to stick around, like the guys and gals I’ve got now. Some of whom, by the way, have been with me for over two years. I can’t believe it’s been that long!
That kind of retention rate is unheard of in my industry – most people join membership groups for two months, then disappear. My group is small and slow-growing, but the relationships I’m building between me and between the members is just ace.
We look after each other, kick each others arses when necessary, and – as Dom put it yesterday –
“Thank you peeps! It’s a bloody mine of good ideas in here :)”
Not ready for a group like this yet? Not to worry, why not start by buying a copy of my book, Business For Superheroes?
Vicky Fraser is a copywriter, author, and entrepreneur. She really did run away with the circus… but when she’s not swinging from a trapeze, she’s showing other copywriters and small business owners how to work with better clients, make more money, and stop missing bathtimes, first words, and dinners with angry partners. In fact, she wrote the book on it. Get your copy here.
PS As for the phrase “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”, I’ve no idea where it came from. References to “brass monkeys” started appearing in print in the mid-19th century, but not always with balls or cold. Sometimes it was cold enough to freeze the ears, tail, nose, or whiskers off a brass monkey.
Sometimes it was hot enough to scald the throat or singe the hair of a brass monkey. So who knows?
If you’ve any ideas, do let me know…