Today one of the writers in our care came up with "unchartered territory". A routine malapropism for "uncharted", of course, but it left me musing on how many of our phrases have their roots in the Royal Navy.
"Uncharted" clearly means "off the map" but one of my favourites is rather more obscure: "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey". The good news is, it isn't rude and has nothing to do with chilled simian genetalia.
Quite simply, in the days of fighting sail a small number of cannonballs were often kept on deck for immediate use. They were stored in a brass frame known as a monkey (probably because the boys who brought gunpowder from the magazine were known as powder monkeys). In exceptionally cold weather the brass could contract enough to dislodge the iron balls.
Another balls-related phrase you can use in front of granny is (for an engine) "running balls out".
Steam engines need to be governed to stop them revving too fast and exploding. The governor incorporates a pair of heavy balls on pivoted arms that are thrown outwards by centrifugal force – so when the engine is working flat out it is literally running "balls out".
The ambiguous Oxford comma
6 days ago