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[muhng-kee] /ˈmʌŋ ki/
noun, plural monkeys.
any mammal of the order Primates, including the guenons, macaques, langurs, and capuchins, but excluding humans, the anthropoid apes, and, usually, the tarsier and prosimians.
the fur of certain species of such long-haired animals.
a person likened to such an animal, as a mischievous, agile child or a mimic.
a dance, deriving from the twist, in which the partners move their hands as if climbing a pole and jerk their heads back and forth.
Slang. an addiction to narcotics.
any of various mechanical devices, as the ram of a pile driver.
Coal Mining. a small passageway or opening.
British Slang. the sum of 500 pounds.
Australian Informal. a sheep.
verb (used without object), monkeyed, monkeying.
Informal. to play or trifle idly; fool (often followed by around or with).
verb (used with object), monkeyed, monkeying.
to imitate; ape; mimic.
to mock.
a monkey on one's back, Slang.
  1. an addiction to a drug or drugs; narcotic dependency.
  2. an enduring and often vexing habit or urge.
  3. a burdensome problem, situation, or responsibility; personal affliction or hindrance.
make a monkey out of, to cause to appear ridiculous; make a fool of.
Also, make a monkey of.
1520-30; apparently < Low German; compare Middle Low German Moneke (name of son of Martin the Ape in the story of Reynard), equivalent to mone- (akin to obsolete French monne she-ape, Spanish, Portuguese mono ape) + -ke diminutive suffix
Related forms
monkeyish, adjective
monkeyishly, adverb
monkeyishness, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for monkeys
  • We are all monkeys and have well established brain modules for endless comparison and status qualms with our fellow monkeys.
  • We're doing some of the same experiments we've done with babies on monkeys and looking to see how monkeys do.
  • Think of tropical birds, perhaps, and angry monkeys.
  • Past tests of the degree to which animals other than people can delay their gratification have focused on birds and monkeys.
  • The study of monkeys also supports the idea that being a leader may greatly reinforce the qualities required to be effective.
  • The final animal trial was a safety test using monkeys.
  • He believes that one of the things that binds groups of monkeys and apes together is grooming.
  • Gummy bears were abandoned because they stuck to the monkeys' teeth.
  • Rodents and monkeys that get playmates or toys learn to complete a variety of tasks more easily, at all ages.
  • The scientists then tested cotton-top tamarin monkeys.
British Dictionary definitions for monkeys


any of numerous long-tailed primates excluding the prosimians (lemurs, tarsiers, etc): comprise the families Cercopithecidae (Old World monkeys), Cebidae (New World monkeys), and Callithricidae (marmosets) See Old World monkey, New World monkey related adjective simian
any primate except man
a naughty or mischievous person, esp a child
the head of a pile-driver (monkey engine) or of some similar mechanical device
(modifier) (nautical) denoting a small light structure or piece of equipment contrived to suit an immediate purpose: a monkey foresail, a monkey bridge
(US & Canadian, slang) an addict's dependence on a drug
(slang) a butt of derision; someone made to look a fool (esp in the phrase make a monkey of)
(slang) (esp in bookmaking) £500
(US & Canadian, slang) $500
(Austral, slang, archaic) a sheep
(Brit, slang) give a monkey's, to care about or regard as important: who gives a monkey's what he thinks?
(slang) have a monkey on one's back
  1. to be troubled by a persistent problem
  2. (US & Canadian) to be addicted to a drug
(intransitive; usually foll by around, with, etc) to meddle, fool, or tinker
(transitive) (rare) to imitate; ape
Word Origin
C16: perhaps from Low German; compare Middle Low German Moneke name of the ape's son in the tale of Reynard the Fox
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for monkeys



1520s, likely from an unrecorded Middle Low German *moneke or Middle Dutch *monnekijn, a colloquial word for "monkey," originally a diminutive of some Romanic word, cf. French monne (16c.); Middle Italian monnicchio, from Old Italian monna; Spanish mona "ape, monkey." In a 1498 Low German version of the popular medieval beast story "Roman de Renart" ("Reynard the Fox"), Moneke is the name given to the son of Martin the Ape; transmission of the word to English might have been via itinerant entertainers from the German states.

The Old French form of the name is Monequin (recorded as Monnekin in a 14c. version from Hainault), which could be a diminutive of some personal name, or it could be from the general Romanic word, which may be ultimately from Arabic maimun "monkey," literally "auspicious," a euphemistic usage because the sight of apes was held by the Arabs to be unlucky [Klein]. The word would have been influenced in Italian by folk etymology from monna "woman," a contraction of ma donna "my lady."

Monkey has been used affectionately for "child" since c.1600. As a type of modern popular dance, it is attested from 1964. Monkey business attested from 1883. Monkey suit "fancy uniform" is from 1886. Monkey wrench is attested from 1858; its figurative sense of "something that obstructs operations" is from the notion of one getting jammed in the gears of machinery (cf. spanner in the works). To make a monkey of someone is attested from 1900. To have a monkey on one's back "be addicted" is 1930s narcotics slang, though the same phrase in the 1860s meant "to be angry." There is a story in the Sinbad cycle about a tormenting ape-like creature that mounts a man's shoulders and won't get off, which may be the root of the term. In 1890s British slang, to have a monkey up the chimney meant "to have a mortgage on one's house." The three wise monkeys ("see no evil," etc.) are attested from 1926.


1859, "to mock, mimic," from monkey (n.). Meaning "play foolish tricks" is from 1881. Related: Monkeyed; monkeying.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for monkeys


  1. A man; person; guy •Mildly contemptuous: a smart monkey (1914+)
  2. A child or young person •An affectionate use (1605+)
  3. A Chinese or Chinese-American (1912+)
  4. A person who is not a hobo, carnival worker, etc; ordinary person (1940s+ Hoboes)
  5. A victim; mark (1940s+ Carnival)
  6. Narcotics addiction; a drug habit: went from monkey to nothin' in twenty-eight days (1940s+ Narcotics)
  7. A kilogram of a narcotic: And you call and you want 100 monkeys (1960s+ Narcotics)
  1. To tinker or tamper; intrude one's action: Look, it's running fine, don't monkey with it (1881+)
  2. monkey around or about
Related Terms

get the monkey off, grease monkey, have a monkey on one's back, powder monkey

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with monkeys
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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