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Monkey Idioms

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Ben has a life-long interest in language and is particularly interested in the expressions, phrases, and idioms that contribute to it.


33 Monkey Idioms and Phrases

A Monkey seems an ideal candidate to be the subject of an idiomatic expression, especially as monkey antics often seem to consist of exaggerated movements and gestures that lend themselves to a wide range of interpretations and humor.

This behavior fits perfectly with an idiom's main characteristic of using exaggerated language or claims to emphasize a point.

1. To Have a Monkey on One's Back

Meaning: a phrase used to describe a situation where you have a persistent problem or burden to bear.

Example sentence one: "Trust me, you don't want to get into debt. You could do without that monkey on your back."

Example sentence two: "I told him not to over-extend himself by buying that big house. It will be forever like a monkey on his back."

That's the problem with a monkey on your back! They are always there.

That's the problem with a monkey on your back! They are always there.

2. Brass Monkey Weather

Meaning: that it is very, very cold.

Example sentence: "I can't stand this freezing weather any longer, it's proper brass monkey weather."

To say that it is freezing. Thought to have its origins in the brass rack (called a monkey) used to store cannonballs. In freezing weather, the cannonballs would contract in size and fall off the shelf.

To say that it is freezing. Thought to have its origins in the brass rack (called a monkey) used to store cannonballs. In freezing weather, the cannonballs would contract in size and fall off the shelf.

3. Monkey Business

Meaning: a way of saying that you should stop messing around. Be less silly, mischievous, or deceitful. To settle down and stop the monkey business.

Example sentence: "Your lawyer is not being as thorough as he should be—there is some monkey business going on here."

4. If you Pay Peanuts, you Get Monkeys

Meaning: to suggest that you only get what you pay for.

Example sentence: "Paying silly, low wages, will only attract ineffective and low skilled people."

So why the reference to Peanuts, I hear you say. Well, peanuts is a slang term for low wages. In this context, the monkey is considered a stupid animal.

5. Like Butter on a Bald Monkey

Meaning: to suggest something is very smooth indeed.

Example: "The paint job on that car was fantastic—running your hand along the bonnet felt like butter on a bald monkey."

6. Grease Monkey

Meaning: a way of describing a mechanic who works on automobiles or aircraft.

An example being: "I took my bike to see my usual grease monkey; he did a great job repairing it, as usual."

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Monkeys are superior to men in this: when a monkey looks into a mirror, he sees a monkey.

— Malcom De Chazal

7. Make a Monkey Out of Someone

Meaning: the act of undermining a person by making them appear foolish or silly.

Example sentence: "I don't enjoy being made a monkey of in front of my friends. Save your jokes for another time when we don't have company."

A monkey suit (in this case a monkey in a tuxedo), can often make a man look a little foolish.

A monkey suit (in this case a monkey in a tuxedo), can often make a man look a little foolish.

8. Well, I'll be a Monkeys Uncle!

Meaning: an expression of surprise, shock, or disbelief. Something that seemed very unlikely happened.

Example sentence one: "Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle! The last thing I expected was for that lottery draw to have all my numbers."

Example sentence two: "Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle! I didn't expect to see you here."

9. Funny As a Barrel of Monkeys

Meaning: an idiom used to say that something is hilarious.

Example sentence: "Josh has me in fits giggles, he's as funny as a barrel of monkeys."

10. Not Give a Monkey's

Meaning: This idiom is suggesting that you do not care about something at all.

Example sentence: "You can moan on about having to tidy your room. I do not give a monkey's how you feel about it."

11. Left-Handed Monkey Wrench

Meaning: refers to a non-existent tool. A phrase often used when teasing someone new to a job or trade.

For instance: "I asked the new apprentice to get a left-handed monkey wrench from the stores. When he brought it back, he still couldn't figure out why it looked identical to the right-handed one I had. There's one born every minute."

Monkey Poll

12. Monkey's Allowance

Meaning: an expression that suggests a person is in a situation that earns more abuse than the rewards otherwise expected or anticipated.

To illustrate: "The firm may well have promised you a good bonus for that last job, but let's face it. The reality is that it was only ever going to be worth a monkey's allowance."

13. Monkey Knows no Ginger

To say that a person can't appreciate the significance or importance of something.

Example sentence: "He claims to be an expert in everything—but in this regard, that particular monkey knows no ginger."

14. Monkey Bite

Meaning: refers to a bite mark, blemish, or mark left on the skin by a kiss.

As a teenager, I often heard this expression used to taunt friends with blemishes on their neck from a kiss or "love bite."

15. To Monkey With Something

Meaning: an act of unwanted interference in an activity or a person's business.

Example sentence: "I told you not to do that! Stop monkeying around."

Monkey Idioms From BBC Learning - YouTube

16. You Cheeky Monkey!

Meaning: a way of saying that someone is playful or mischievous.

Example sentence: "Emily! Where do think you're going with that slice of birthday cake—you cheeky little monkey."

17. Monkey See, Monkey Do

An idiom that means: to imitate someone. Children often copy—imitate the behaviors of their parents.


18. Softly, Softly Catchee Monkey

A way of saying caution is the best way to achieve an end.

Example sentence: "Take your time and make certain that you have all the relevant paperwork and permissions before you knock down the old house ready for the new build. It's a big step, and softly, softly will catch the monkey every time."

19. Powder Monkey

Meaning: the name given to an explosives expert.

The Source of this idiom is from a nautical term. It was the name given to the person who used to carry gun powder from the ship's magazine to the gun deck.

20. Monkey Tricks

Meaning: to suggest a person is malicious or spiteful in their behavior.

Example sentence: "I see that Simon is up to his monkey tricks again; he is so mean."

21. To Get One's Monkey Up

Meaning: that someone is feeling annoyed or irritated.

Example: "Every time I try to relax in the garden, my neighbor insists on lighting a bonfire. He honestly gets my monkey up."

Monkey Quote

We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.

— Robert Wilensky, American Computer Scientist, 1951 - 2013

22. As Clever as a Cartload of Monkeys

Meaning: that someone or something is sly, naughty, or mischievous.

Example: "We need to keep that group of youngsters separated. Once they are all together, they are as clever as a cartload of monkeys."

23. Like a Monkey on a Stick

A saying that tells us what it is like to be restless and agitated.

Refers to a child's toy, made up of a monkey figure able to slide up and down a stick as though climbing.

Example: "I wish you would sit still. Your up and down like a monkey on a stick."


24. To Monkey Around

To behave in a silly manner.

Example sentence: "You need to sit in your chair and focus on your homework; stop monkeying around with that ruler and get to work."

25. A Monkey's Wedding

Describes a bright sunny day that encounters a shower of rain. This term originated in South Africa.

To illustrate: "It was a great day. Everyone had a wonderful time. The only downfall was that monkey's wedding of a shower that meant we had to retreat indoors for a few minutes."

26. Monkey in the Middle

An expression with its roots in a commonly played child's game. This game involved two or more people attempting to keep a ball away from someone in the middle.

Example sentence: "I'm trying as hard as I can to keep the peace between the two of them, but honestly, they are such hard work. I feel like I'm just a monkey in the middle."

27. Monkey Swill

Meaning: an alcoholic beverage that is of low quality or very unpleasant.

An example being: "I'm never going back to that bar. Their beer tasted off, and it was like being served monkey swill."

28. Monkey Script

A term used in computing. Describes a written procedure or script which a code writer follows.

29. Code Monkey

The terminology used to describe a computer code writer who grinds out code but is unable or not required to work on higher status computing tasks. Usually said in a derogatory manner.

30. Monkey House

Said in a satirical description of a place where politicians gather in numbers.

For example, "The antics and noise from that gathering of political members were unbelievable, it was like a monkey house."

31. Organ Grinders Monkey

To be accused of doing the bidding for someone else.

An idiom concerning street entertainers who used to play a mobile organ or wind-up instrument to "busk" for money. Often they would be accompanied by a small monkey dressed in a hat and jacket as an added way of attracting an audience."

Usually said when stating that it is better to be the organ grinder (in charge) than the subservient and often poorly treated little monkey.

32. Monkey Talk

Distorted speech—usually made about a person under the influence of drugs.

33. Not my Circus, Not my Monkeys

This idiom is an English translation of a Polish idiom.

Meaning: a volatile situation that you want no part of.

Example sentence: "I know you have issues with my neighbor, but I refuse to get involved in your vendetta against them—it's not my circus, not my monkeys.


Monkeys have added a rich contribution to the English language. Their human-like appearance and traits, coupled with their wild antics, have resulted in many humorous phrases and expressions, often enabling a quick retort to a situation where a person is at risk of behaving rashly or inappropriately.


JEREMIAH MWANIKI KILUNDA from Nairobi on November 06, 2020:

Those monkey idioms are so amusing. Good work!

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on April 11, 2014:

@lidialbuquerque: Thank you - It is nice to know that you found this lens useful.

lidialbuquerque on April 10, 2014:

Very cool and informative! English is my second language and I learned some new idioms in here! Tks!

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on February 11, 2014:

@anonymous: Thank you.

anonymous on February 10, 2014:

Nice one I like the Monkey poster and the monkey jewelry too which is about halfway down the page as well. Emerald coloured eye Crouching Brass Tone Monkey lovely.

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on December 15, 2013:

@sierradawn lm: Thank you.

sierradawn lm on December 13, 2013:

This was a delightful lens! I enjoyed my visit here!

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on November 13, 2013:

@WriterJanis2: Thank you

WriterJanis2 on November 13, 2013:

So adorable.

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on September 20, 2013:

@anonymous: Thank you - very much appreciated.

anonymous on September 19, 2013:

I enjoyed this lens.

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on September 01, 2013:

@flinnie lm: Thank you.

Gloria Freeman from Alabama USA on September 01, 2013:

Hi I enjoyed reading your lens.

Tolovaj Publishing House from Ljubljana on August 30, 2013:

Learning + fun = my kind of combination!

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on June 25, 2013:

@SavioC: Thank you.

SavioC on June 25, 2013:

Boy O Boy. Did I enjoy your lens or what ? Really Amazing . And then there is the frog, pig, dog, horse be checked . Great lens. You can add " Steel Monkey" later on ........ Cheers .

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on June 20, 2013:

@Mommy-Bear: Thank you.

Mommy-Bear on June 19, 2013:

Cute lens, I'll take a look at some of your other ones.

Takkhis on June 10, 2013:

I like the way you have presented this lens with monkey pictures and really enjoyed looking at those idioms :)

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on May 31, 2013:

@vinodkpillai lm: Thank you for the visit and comment - I always find that adding a bit of fun is a great way to make learning enjoyable.

vinodkpillai lm on May 30, 2013:

Fun way of learning idioms - thanks!

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on March 07, 2013:

@momsfunny: Thank you - very much appreciated.

momsfunny on March 07, 2013:

Nicely done! :)

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on March 04, 2013:

@alenmic: Thank you.

alenmic on March 03, 2013:

I always love idioms. Great lens.

Takkhis on October 28, 2012:

It is a nice and funny lens.

PennyHowe on May 13, 2012:

There's no monkey on your back! Loved your lens. Thanks for the great pictures and fun idioms.

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on May 13, 2012:

@Gloriousconfusion: Thank you for your visit and blessing of this lense. Always appreciated.

Diana Grant from United Kingdom on May 13, 2012:

I love monkeys, and enjoyed the lens, so here are some Angel blessings

flicker lm on April 28, 2012:

Fun article! Enjoyed it thoroughly.

livinglargeandh on April 24, 2012:

Ha. This lens is right up my alley. We had several monkeys as kids. And...I have another idiom re monkeys for you--I remember it from Spanish class: "Aunque la mona se vista de seda, mona se queda." It translates loosely as: "A monkey in a silk suit is still a monkey."

angelsigh on April 24, 2012:

Cool lens :D

Sher Ritchie on April 16, 2012:

This was fun! Thanks for sharing!

anonymous on April 01, 2012:

I kept thinking I had one but then I saw you had it here, always fun to take a walk through your animal idioms...just monkeying around!

anonymous on March 09, 2012:

Love your idiom lenses--they're great fun!

Mary Beth Granger from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA on February 12, 2012:

Very this lens.

garyrh1 on November 01, 2011:

Haha. Not give a monkey's. Hmmm... I haven't heard that one :)

Shelly Sellers from Midwest U.S.A. on October 15, 2011:

It has been awhile since I heard "Monkey see, Monkey do"! You have a fun sense of humor :)

CCGAL on September 09, 2011:

I did enjoy it indeed! In fact, I thought of a couple of monkey idioms that you don't have. "Throw a monkey wrench into your plans" is one, and "monkey rig" something is the other.

On an aside, there was a popular song in the 60's that had the refrain: "Peel me a 'nanner, toss me a peanut, I'll come a swingin' from a coconut tree. Peel me a 'nanner, toss me a peanut, you sure made a monkey outta me."

Nice job - I really liked this one, too!

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