I am contemplating my stupidity. According to the weather liars it’s twenty-seven with a wind chill making it feel like nineteen. I know. You northerners are cranking up the grill and getting the beer put on ice. Here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, we might be headed toward a modern ice age. I could be in Florida where the cold snap is expected to cause cold-stunned iguanas to fall from trees.
Why am I contemplating my stupidity? It is walking day with my best friend, Hawk. Normally we walk on Fridays but scheduling problems and Covid reared their heads, so this is the first walk in three weeks, and it is on a cold and windy Saturday morning.
Two seventy-one-year-olds braving the elements, to set in their ways to ask, “Do you think we ought to just go to the coffee house have a cup of coffee?” Noooo. We are much too manly to do something smart. Neither one of us wants to admit we would rather be sitting in the warmth sipping a dark roast.
Southerners don’t do cold. Add snow or ice and we are damn near suicidal. It became apparent that Southerners don’t do cold when I looked up “Southern Sayings About the Weather.” For every Southern saying about the cold, there were dozens of heat and humidity sayings and right now you can guess which one I would prefer to be using.
“As cold as a well-digger’s butt in January” is about descriptive as we get. That one along with “Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”, and “as cold as a witch’s tit in a brass bra” are not even Southern. We plagiarized them from our Northern neighbors or some of our English forefathers and foremothers.
Per normal, this sent me down one of my many rabbit holes. Where did such sayings come from?
While freezing the balls off a brass monkey seems to be a physical impossibility, what if I told you that a brass monkey might not be what you are thinking it might be. As one story goes, cannonballs on English ships used to be stored aboard ship in piles, on a brass frame or tray called a ‘monkey’. In very cold weather the brass would contract, spilling the cannonballs: hence very cold weather is “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”.
Notice I said one story, a story that probably isn’t true. According to www.lexico.com, the term ‘monkey’ is not recorded as the name for such an object. “The facts, ma’am, just the facts.” The rate of contraction of brass in cold temperatures is unlikely to be fast enough to cause the reputed effect and the phrase was first recorded as “freeze the tail off a brass monkey” which removes any essential connection with balls, brass or otherwise. Why let facts get in the way of a delightful story?
It seems that the phrase, “cold enough to freeze the balls off of a brass monkey” is simply a humorous reference to the fact that metal figures will become very cold to the touch in cold weather. Descriptive but boring.
So, what about a witch’s mammary glands encased in a brassiere made from an alloy of copper and zinc? One might think Salem Witch Trials or some old English saying but it is not…at least not in print and the saying is not ‘that’ old. It may have been used earlier but first appeared in print when American historian and writer Francis Van Wyck Mason wrote Spider House in 1932. The exact quote was “As cold as a witch’s tit outside.” The addition of the brass bra probably connects to the brass monkey’s testicles in some way.
Interesting fact from the 1700s, the prime time for witch trials. Women with erect nipples were considered to be in league with the devil. This explains an interesting correlation between an increase in witch trials and cold weather…and why a brass bra might have been utilized for protection had brassieres been invented.
That leaves us with “as cold as a well digger’s butt in January.” Do I really need to explain this? If you have ever watched a chubby plumber at work, you have an idea of its origin although plumbers aren’t well diggers.
There is no scientific reason for a well digger’s rump to be colder than say an ice skaters. “As cold as an ice skater’s butt” is more mentally pleasing than the crack of Ole Jeb’s butt peeking out of his wrangler jeans while he works on my grease trap.
We survived our walk and the rabbit hole fell into. The walk wasn’t bad until the wind blew. Well, it snowed on us. Maybe ten flakes in a minute. We also found we weren’t the only fools out and about. I really enjoyed certain runners in their lycra body suits although I’m sure several could have been put on trial in 1700s Salem for witchcraft.
For more go to Don Miller’s author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1ThWNJrpUfzoiZb_aT5DzaIQX1-DDiSJiDHVXAzn0ttDYNhLs3VW5w6SY