Knock It Off, and Other Idioms in Historical Context

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
35,030
T'Republic of Yorkshire
#11
'Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey' is supposedly early modern naval idiom. A monkey was a triangular frame, not unlike the ones used to set up the red balls in a snooker game. The balls were piled up in a pyramid shape with the monkey preventing the bottom layer from moving around. The monkey was made of brass, meaning that in cold conditions it contracted quicker than did the iron cannon balls stacked on it. This caused the pyramid of balls to pop off the monkey.

I really hope that this one is not apocryphal!
I'm pretty sure this one is apocryphal.

One that may, or may not be a naval idiom, or may just be a modern creation, is "It's your turn in the barrel."
 
Likes: Modor
Mar 2019
1,612
Kansas
#12
'Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey' is supposedly early modern naval idiom. A monkey was a triangular frame, not unlike the ones used to set up the red balls in a snooker game. The balls were piled up in a pyramid shape with the monkey preventing the bottom layer from moving around. The monkey was made of brass, meaning that in cold conditions it contracted quicker than did the iron cannon balls stacked on it. This caused the pyramid of balls to pop off the monkey.

I really hope that this one is not apocryphal!
The full story behind this dates to Capt Cook's trip where he went below the Antarctic circle, he apparently mentioned in his diary that the weather was so cold it froze the balls of the brass monkey
 
Aug 2019
55
New York
#17
"Smart alec" - Usually referring to a person with annoyingly persistent pretensions to cleverness. First use seems to be sometime in the mid eighteen hundreds. Also spelled "smart aleck", sometimes.
 
Likes: Futurist

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
20,960
SoCal
#18
I’ve seen some interesting idioms used lately and it got me thinking about the historical context of their origins, I thought a thread about them might be fun.

From what I can gather, the idiom “knock it off” is derived from the saying “knock off” as in, to stop or cease an activity, which seems to first appear in the seventeenth century (a conjunction of the phase, “knockoff”, was also later used to more directly mean “stop work”). However, there may be a slightly more recent (and literal) connection to the phrase as it may have been used in auction houses to signal the end of bidding, but I’m having trouble finding a decent reference on that.

Now it mostly just means “stop it” with perhaps a slightly annoyed connotation.

I’d love to see some other idioms and their use/meaning historically.
Is OMG an idiom? If so, it was first used in 1917 in a letter from Lord Fisher to Winston Churchill:

The First Use of OMG Was in a 1917 Letter to Winston Churchill | Smart News | Smithsonian



Within 15 or 20 years, OMG is going to become older than all living people!
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
20,960
SoCal
#19
"Smart alec" - Usually referring to a person with annoyingly persistent pretensions to cleverness. First use seems to be sometime in the mid eighteen hundreds. Also spelled "smart aleck", sometimes.
"How do you know that I'm a smart Alec? As in, how do you know that I have a high IQ and that my name is Alec?" ;)