October 04, 2015 21:15 UTC

Words and Their Stories

Are We Really Just Monkeys?

Mally, the pet monkey of Canadian singer Justin Bieber, is seen at a home for animals in Munich, Apr. 2, 2013.
Mally, the pet monkey of Canadian singer Justin Bieber, is seen at a home for animals in Munich, Apr. 2, 2013.
Listen to this story as you read it: Monkey Expressions
Listen to this story as you read it: Monkey Expressionsi
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Now, the VOA Special English program Words and Their Stories.

Monkeys are very similar to us in many ways -- most have ten fingers and ten toes, and brains much like ours. We enjoy watching them because they often act like us. In fact, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution says that monkeys and humans share a common ancestor.

Songwriter William Gilbert, in the musical “Princess Ida,” wrote:

“Darwinian man, though well-behaved, at best is only a monkey shaved.”
His words -- sung to Sir Arthur Sullivan’s music -- make listeners smile. Well, monkeys make us smile, too, because they are creatures full of playful tricks.

​This is why many monkey expressions are about tricky people or playful acts. One of these expressions is “monkeyshines,” meaning “tricks or foolish acts.” The meaning is clear if you have ever watched a group of monkeys playfully chasing each other -- pulling tails, stealing food, doing tricks. So, when a teacher says to a group of students “Stop those monkeyshines right now!,” you know that the boys and girls are playing instead of studying.

You might hear that same teacher warn a student not to “monkey around” with a valuable piece of equipment. You “monkey around” with something when you do not know what you are doing. You are touching or playing with something you should leave alone.
Also, you can “monkey around” when you feel like doing something, but have no firm idea of what to do. For example, you tell your friend you are going to spend the day “monkeying around” with your car. Well, you do not have any job or goal in mind -- it is just a way to pass the time.

​“Monkey business” usually means secret -- maybe illegal -- activities. A news report may say there is “monkey business” involved in building the new airport, with some officials getting secret payments from builders.
You may “make a monkey out of” someone when you make that person look foolish. Some people “make a monkey out of” themselves by acting foolish or silly.

​If one monkey has fun, imagine how much fun “a barrel of monkeys” can have! If your friend says he had “more fun than a barrel of monkeys” at your party, you know that he had a really good time.
“Monkey suits” are common names for clothes or uniforms soldiers wear.
In earlier years in many American cities, you would find men playing musical hand organs on the street. Dancing to the music would be the man’s small monkey dressed in a tight-fitting, colorful jacket similar to a military uniform. So, people began to call a military uniform a “monkey suit.”

​This VOA Special English program Words and Their Stories was written by Marilyn Rice Christiano. Maurice Joyce was the narrator. I’m Shirley Griffith.

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Comment Sorting
Comments page of 3
by: Anonymous
08/22/2014 10:47 AM
very good interesning

by: rockett6554 from: taiwan
08/21/2014 4:11 PM
I am going to spend the weekend monkeying around with my friends.

by: namvechet from: cambodia
08/21/2014 3:11 PM
the monkey is the animal are cleaver than other animals that almost much look like us just it has tail.

by: José Júnior from: Natal - Rn - Brazil
08/21/2014 12:02 PM
I'm not extraterrestrial, thank God,I am a descendant of a natural process, which is completed today. Living primates.

by: HyeonJoo from: Korea
08/21/2014 9:54 AM
This story is "a barrel of monkeys". I like it

by: AI from: Indonesia
08/19/2014 9:47 AM
We are different from monkey, we have a different ancestor. Darwin's theory probably wrong

by: jorge Bartolome Bruera from: Argentine Republic
08/18/2014 9:00 PM
I was told by my wife I am her monkey, kindly, and she kisses me.

by: Dzung Nguyen from: VIET NAM
08/18/2014 3:35 PM
I love monkeys . Watching them playing was totally a joy .

by: Ahmad Hussein Annan from: Syria
08/18/2014 9:52 AM
Averos Andalusia The Theory of Darwin that we share common ancestors with monkeys has failed . similarity exist but ancestors are different. Even Homo Eractus and Homo Neandartal genetically differs from Monkeys

by: Nhâm Bùi from: hcm,vietnam
08/18/2014 4:27 AM
before detecting VOA, I have always "monkeyed around" with my English what I want to improve for a long time. "Making monkey out of myself" is the thing I do regularly when using English. I hope that VOA would give more useful stories like this one to help everybody being in headache with English, help me to use English like or near to native people

Comments page of 3

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