The English Language is Special

I spend some time every day thinking about different words and their prefixes, origins, etc. It proves to be quite enlightening for a subject of meditation, even if it presents itself on a silly level sometimes:

mon·key – /ˈməNGkē/

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See definitions in:AllMammalMechanicsnoun

1. a small to medium-sized primate that typically has a long tail, most kinds of which live in trees in tropical countries.

2. a pile-driving machine consisting of a heavy hammer or ram working vertically in a groove.


behave in a silly or playful way.

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Also notifiably, I take grateful pride in having fluidity in my English-language-speaking-skills. And then, I think entomology . . . what is the entomology of “monkey”? Think . . . think . . . think . . .

Let’s see what says, while I think:

monkey (n.)

1520s, also monkie, munkie, munkye, etc., not found in Middle English (where ape was the usual word); of uncertain origin, but likely from an unrecorded Middle Low German *moneke or Middle Dutch *monnekijn, a colloquial word for “monkey,” originally a diminutive of some Romanic word, compare 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.”

In general, any one of the primates except man and lemurs; in more restricted use, “an anthropoid ape or baboon;” but popularly used especially of the long-tailed species often kept as pets. Monkey has been used affectionately or in pretended disapproval of a child since c. 1600. As the name of a type of modern popular dance, it is attested from 1964.

Monkey suit is from 1876 as a type of child’s suit; by 1918 as slang for “fancy dress clothes or uniform.” To make a monkey of “make a fool of” is attested from 1851. 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 Japanese three wise monkeys (“see no evil,” etc.) are attested in English by 1891.

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Then, I’m thinking, “NO! NO! NO! NO! They all have it all wrong!!” Monkey was originally called a “man-key”, because of evolution, and then someone said, “Well that might be quite offensive!” so the word constructer says . . .

“Okay, no worries. I’ll just make it ‘monkey’, so no one will get offended”.


Guys and gals, until next time – may you find all the happiness that your life can fit in it’s happy spot – S.D. McKinley.

By S.D. McKinley

S.D. McKinley lives in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. He was born in the first half of the 1980's and grew up in Wisconsin as a young boy, then moved to Georgia when he turned exactly twelve years old. During teenage years, he raced dirt track go karts and played guitar. He discovered his current love for all kinds of art after his mid-life crisis at 25 years old. S.D. McKinley began writing books in 2017.

8 replies on “The English Language is Special”

“Moneke” and “mannekijn” remind me of the word “mannequin,” and the Spanish word “mun~eka” (sorry, I can’t find the palatal n sound on my keyboard), which means “doll.” I wonder if these could be cognates? Indonesian has a word “boneka,” meaning doll, which i believe was borrowed from Portuguese (Indonesian is a language which loves to borrow).

Unfortunately, in modern America, “monkey” has taken on offensive connotations in many contexts. When we are out playing at a playground, for example, I never call my kids “monkeys” in fun, lest they find it funny, start repeating it, and say it to someone who would think they were being racially insensitive.

That makes sense! I never would have thought about the connection between “monkey” and “doll” . . . Interesting! I appreciate your precautious nature when speaking to your children. 🤠 That’s definitely important as is your enlightening comment. I would have a more difficult time with not calling my kids monkey, I’m afraid.

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