Issue 113, page 4
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From Dennis Foley:
We did admit that the cannon-holder etymology was unsubstantiated. However, we don't agree that the Snopes site "thoroughly debunked" this derivation of the brass monkey phrase. The author of that article simply gave several reasons why the etymology doesn't make sense. However, logic is not always involved in the birth of a cliché. We'll stand by the possibility that the phrase derives from at least a naval source. See this week's Spotlight where we discuss this etymology further.
As an aside, etymologist Christine Ammer has suggested that this cliché derives from the brass monkey figurines that were popular in Victorian Britain. These statuettes were copies of a carving from a Japanese temple. They depicted three monkeys - one covering its eyes, another covering its ears and the last covering its mouth. The implied message was "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". Ms. Ammer's explanation seems tempting but it remains pure speculation. In its favor we might point out that a book of 1835 has the phrase shaking like a monkey in frosty weather. This graphic image may well have been the progenitor of all "cold monkey" phrases. The earliest recorded example of a cold enough to... phrase is cold enough to freeze the whiskers off a brass monkey (1912) followed by cold enough to freeze the tail off a brass monkey (1922). It is quite possible that this was progressively coarsened to take its present form.
We think it fair to inform our readers that we are divided over whether this is more plausible than the cannonball origin. To help decide the matter, we intend to consult a naval historian about how cannonballs were stowed.
From Kate Brooks:
We haven't seen Windas' book, but neither have we seen any evidence to support a derivation of the brass monkey phrase from the Cunard line's flag. The term brass monkey has been around since the 17th century. The Cunard line was founded in 1840.
Shame on your local newspaper! Have you thought about offering yourself as the new editor?
Thanks for clearing that up! Your explanation for the source of the name Russia sounds basically like one of those we suggested, with a slight change to the name of the Viking tribe.
From Ray Adams:
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