Origins of expressions.?

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May 1, 2005
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I've always been passionate about the origins of certain expressions and have in the past researched out opinions of said expressions, some of which are surprising. For example. Here's an old expression- can you guess the origins. Hint -navy.
"cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey"
Any expressions you wish to contribute
 
Joined
May 1, 2005
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Thunder Bay Ontario Canada
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In the past, war ships carried iron cannons, which required cannon balls nearby. The cannon balls were stored in a square pyramid with one ball on top, resting on four, resting on nine, which rested on sixteen. In order to prevent the sixteen balls from rolling away, a metal plate called a monkey with sixteen round indentations was secured near the cannon. As iron rusts quickly, the plate was made of brass. Whilst the rusting problem may have been solved, brass contracts much more and quicker than iron in cold weather. As a consequence, when the temperature was extremely cold, the brass indentations would shrink and the cannon balls would roll off the monkey. The temperature was therefore cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.
 
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Jan 2, 2009
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Alaska
There are a lot of expressions in English lexicon that originated with the Royal Navy.
"The cat's out of the bag"
Origin: The cat o'nine tails(cat for short) that was used to punish sailors by flogging was stored in a red bag(red to hide the blood stains). When the bosun took the cat out of the bag everyone new that someone was about to be punished.

"Son of a gun"
Origin: In the age of sail war ships required a lot of manpower to work the sails and cannons(aka guns). Most of the common sailors were "pressed" aka drafted into service against their will. When the ships returned to port for short periods the crew were not allowed shore leave for fear that they would run away. So the sailors "wives" were allowed to come aboard for conjugal visits while the ship was in port. The only privacy that could be had for the common sailor was to lay a mat on the deck between the guns. In those days calling someone a son of a gun was a derogatory term suggesting a questionable family lineage.

"Little nipper:
Origin: The anchors on sailing ships were massive things that required a lot of manpower to haul aboard. This was accomplished by means of a capstan that the crew operated by walking around while pushing on the capstan bars which were like spokes of a wheel sticking out. Any old movie about the age of sail likely has a scene with the crew walking round and round the capstan hauling the anchor. The anchor line(aka cable) was pulled by attaching it to the "messenger" which was wrapped around the capstan. The attachment was achieved by tying the two together with a series of short bits of smaller rope called "nips". This whole arrangement slid across the deck while the anchor was coming in and the sailors walking round the capstan had to step over it. The nips had to be taken off near the capstan and tied back on a few feet away as the line came in. The nips were removed by the ships boys(pre-teenage kids) who were small enough to scoot beneath the capstan bars without disrupting the whole process. So "little nipper" referred to the ships boys who were still young/small enough to perform that job.
 
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