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What is the origin of the word 'Quiz'?

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259.  Wed Oct 15, 2003 6:11 am Reply with quote

I'm deeply disappointed to hear that regarding brass monkeys but it goes to prove that most of what you think you know is wrong.

I was confident of 'three sheets to the wind' though, having a vague recollection of reading it in the excellent 'Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea'. However, as said book is currently lurking amid a great many others in a large pile of cardboard boxes in a metal storage container in the yard awaiting the time when my domestic architect can design an extension to the house to accommodate them, I couldn't check it there. To the rescue came a website called 'The Phrase Finder', , which says this:

"THREE SHEETS TO THE WIND – “Sails are controlled with ropes called ‘sheets’ and the most any sail has is two – a lee side sheet and a weather sheet. The sailor’s contention is that if a man who had been drinking was given as many as ‘three’ sheets he could still not steady or control himself on a regular course. An alternative idea is that of a ship caught with three (jib) sheets in the wind as she goes from one tack to the other. The sails would flap and the ship would wallow and stagger in the locomotion of a drunk.” From “Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions” by Bill Beavis and Richard G. McCloskey (Sheridan House, Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., 1995. First published in Great Britain, 1983)."

The latter is the definition in the Oxford Companion, IIRC.

9273.  Wed Oct 20, 2004 1:53 pm Reply with quote

My favourite spoonerism is the remarkable:

"Shut it's mars brinkies out there"

c.f. My old friend J.B about 8 years ago.

9285.  Wed Oct 20, 2004 2:23 pm Reply with quote

Welcome Pinky, but I must say the true meaning of that gnomic phrase escapes me entirely.

9311.  Wed Oct 20, 2004 4:28 pm Reply with quote

Ditto, but good to revive a thread exactly a year after it was last posted to.

9366.  Thu Oct 21, 2004 9:17 am Reply with quote

"cave" (teacher coming) was mentioned early in this thread; it reminds me that at school we used to shout "cree" if we wanted to be spared a thumping from a schoolmate. In public schools I believe it was "pax", which is self-explanatory.

9368.  Thu Oct 21, 2004 10:05 am Reply with quote

Modern kids, brought up on computer games, say "Pause Game!" or, occasionally, the Americanism "Time Out!".

9375.  Thu Oct 21, 2004 12:57 pm Reply with quote

Umm, the "Shut it's mars brinkies out there!" being a slip of the tongue for -

Sh*t it's brass monkeys out there!

Perhaps I should have spelled brinkies - brinkeys and then it would have been straightforward to decipher.

9392.  Thu Oct 21, 2004 3:06 pm Reply with quote

Oh duh! I should have seen that one. But you could do worse, Pinky, than look on the QI Origins thread where there was, I think, a discussion about that very term.

9398.  Thu Oct 21, 2004 3:22 pm Reply with quote

It's actually on this very thread, post 252. An incredible coincidence which must surely mean something - unless anyone, coincidentally, has a theory about apparent coincidences and large numbers that they'd like to share with us?

9439.  Fri Oct 22, 2004 1:04 pm Reply with quote

Umm, well it wasn't a coincidence, because it was whilst idly wandering through this thread on the origins of Quizzes, that I happened upon post 252 - 259 which galvanized me to report my favourite spoonerism.

Following on from that I got interested in the brass monkey problem. I know the naval cannonballs explanation and understand that it is probably a myth. Then I stumbled upon this alternative. Although my personal opinion is that we just don't know. Anyhoo :-

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.


But I digress from this old topic.

9441.  Fri Oct 22, 2004 5:37 pm Reply with quote

It is quite possible that this was progressively coarsened

Or that the printed versions were bowdlerisations of an already coarse spoken version.

QI Individual
36707.  Sat Dec 03, 2005 8:00 am Reply with quote

I quite like this one though.


Phrase: "Cold enough to freeze the balls of the brass monkey"

Origin: I learned the origin while touring the land based cannons on the Rock of Gibraltar. There are land based cannons that have been there for centuries to guard the entrance to the Mediterranean. Gibraltar is an English state located on the Southern tip of Spain, and the weather is generally warm or at least not very cold.
The 9th Royal Artillery Regiment is, and has been for centuries, responsible for the upkeep of the artillery pieces. As told to me by the Historical Officer on Gibraltar, the cannon balls were stacked into a pyramid near the guns for easy loading. In order to stack the cannon balls in this manner, a brass triangle (similar to the rack used for balls on a pool table but larger) was used to hold the bottom layer of cannon balls in place. This rack was solid brass and made by the Monkey Brass Company. When the temperature drops brass shrinks more rapidly than other metals. The triangle would shrink and cause the cannon balls to spill out of the rack, or "brass monkey." Hence, "Cold enough to freeze the balls off the brass monkey"

Ronald K Shy

Could be true on land. On board of (violently) moving ships the balls would surely have to be contained by something else. I have no idea what the construction on ships looks like but this description:


"Of naval origin. The brass rails that held stacks of cannon balls on ships were called monkeys. When it was very cold the monkeys contracted and the balls fell off."

suggests a long rail and the longer an object, the more it will contract in absolute number of millimeters/centimeters. I can imagine the end of a brass rod being held in a hole falling out of that hole when it shrinks. Surely in those days they would have encountered some design flaws now and then.

Maybe a military/naval historian should know, or be able to find out. Especially whether the Gibraltar story is true or not.

gerontius grumpus
36727.  Sat Dec 03, 2005 8:36 am Reply with quote

The rack or rail used to hold cannon balls was certainly called a monkey but was it made of brass?

Possibly not, because the balls would fall off when it became too cold.

Last edited by gerontius grumpus on Sat Dec 03, 2005 10:41 am; edited 1 time in total

36740.  Sat Dec 03, 2005 10:17 am Reply with quote

Wouldn't the balls shrink as well, and thus still be held even by a shorter bar? Or is my comprehension of solid-state spherical trigonometry [or whatever it is] wrong?

gerontius grumpus
36746.  Sat Dec 03, 2005 10:45 am Reply with quote

I think the point is that cannon balls were made of iron and different metals contract or expand at different rates.

This is how the bimetallic strip in a thermostat works.

I'm still not convinced that a monkey would have been made of brass though.


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