Did you ever wonder about that?

Brendaren Farms - Tuesday, March 11, 2003 - by: Edwin Wallace




We must keep history alive




In the heyday of sailing ships, all war ships and many freighters carried iron cannons. Those cannon fired round iron cannon balls. It was necessary to keep a good supply near the cannon. But how to prevent them from rolling about the deck?




The best storage method devised was 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/rolling from under the others. The solution was a metal plate called a "Monkey" with 16 round indentations. But if this plate was made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it. The solution to the rusting problem was to make "Brass Monkeys."




Few landlubbers realize that brass contracts much more and much faster than iron when chilled. Consequently, when the temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannon balls would come right off the monkey.




Thus, it was quite literally, "Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey!" (And all this time, you thought that was an improper expression, didn't you?)




Funny how we live for years not really knowing why we say things. I said to another friend the other day,

"I feel out of sorts." She stopped me cold. "What are sorts? How can you be out of sorts?"

It goes back to the days of type setting. Sorts are(were) the little metal blocks with the raised letters on them. Of course the type setter would be "ticked off" if he ran out of sorts type setting a newspaper article.

He also had to "Mind his Ps and Qs" because they looked so much alike as the type was set. ( p and q) And I believe the sorts were set up in reverse order to come out right when printing took place. That really made ps and qs confusing.


I'm Edwin Wallace



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