This place matters

This place matters

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Plains, trains, and men of war

As I write this, it's cold enough here in Ohio to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. Now, I was all excited to tell you that this is not a dirty expression, because I read in Albert Jack's Red Herrings and White Elephants that the expression had something to do with orphans, man-o-war ships, and brass cannonballs. It turns out I was lured into the CANOE  - the Conspiracy to Attribute Naval Origins to Everything
In reality, this expression is likely related to brass monkey, a tourist souvenir popular in China and Japan in the 19th and 20th century. And sometimes, apparently, these monkeys sometimes had testicles and then sometimes they froze off? Actually, itt used to be the tail, ears, or whiskers of brass monkeys that figuratively froze off, but people like saying balls, so there you have it.
3 Wise Monkeys, Shrine of Toshogu in NikkĊ, Japan
"
Hear speak see no evil Toshogu".
Licensed under 
CC BY-SA 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
I'm sad about the orphan thing, because that taints Red Herrings and White Elephants, which I expected to be more accurate, since I got it in England, and assumed it was accurate because England.
But here are a couple of ball-related expressions that actually don't have anything to do with testes, primate or otherwise.
 The expression balls out, meaning extreme, doesn't refer to the balls you're thinking of, although running around with one's balls out is a rather extreme behavior. This one is likely related to steam trains. In the early days of their existence, steam engines used a thing called a centrifugal governor to control the engine's speed, according to the Online Slang Dictionary. This governor used weighted balls which, when the engine was running at full speed, would rise. That makes you wonder why the expression isn't balls up; maybe orphans thought it up.
One final expression about balls that sounds dirty but isn't is balls to the wall. This came about in aviation, when levers had balls at the end of them, and pushing the balls toward the firewall of the aircraft made the plane go faster.
So there you have it. One expression that claims not to be dirty that really is, and two that sound dirty but aren't. Kind of reminds me of shouting "out, out damn spot" so that you could get away with saying damn. Or mispronouncing Phuket Thailand


This picture makes me so sad... it was about 5 degrees and I really had
to pee, so 100% of the shots are hasty and taken from exactly the wrong angle.

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