December 19, 2014 16:35 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
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

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.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 3
    Next 
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
    Next 

Learn with The News

  • Mideast Islamic State US

    Audio Top Islamic State Leaders Killed in Airstrikes

    Three top Islamic State leaders were killed in a series of targeted airstrikes in Iraq. U.S. not ruling out White House visit by Cuban President Raul Castro. Suspected Boko Haram gunmen kidnap over 100 women, children. Putin says Russia’s economy will improve in two years. More

  • the interview

    Video Sony Criticized for Cancelling 'The Interview'

    The company acted after a group of computer hackers attacked the company and threatened to attack movie theaters that show the film. Most people have criticized Sony’s decision to cancel the release. The US says North Korea was behind the cyber attack. North Korea denies the accusation. More

  • The MOM Incubator could save more babies in refugee camps who die due to complications of premature birth.

    Audio Low-Cost Incubator May Save More Babies

    Premature birth is the biggest killer of children worldwide. About one million babies around the world die of problems because they are born too early. Many of these babies could have been saved if they had been placed in an incubator. A young British researcher says he has found a solution. More

  • A screenshot from Cuban television shows President Raul Castro addressing the country, in Havana, Dec. 17, 2014.

    Audio US, Cuba Normalize Relations

    After the release of Alan Gross from prison, U.S. and Cuba announce policy changes that end more than 50 years of diplomatic isolation that began in the Cold War. Also in the news, India joins Pakistan in mourning after Tuesday's Taliban attack. And Sony Pictures cancels release of "The Interview." More

  • Audio How Much of You Does Facebook Own?

    If you use Facebook, your friends may have posted an update recently saying Facebook is not permitted to violate their privacy. But how much of your data -- things you post -- does Facebook legally own? Experts say Facebook's terms of service agreement clearly says they own most of what you post. More

Featured Stories

  • Video Music Shows in Private Homes Gain Popularity

    Attending a live musical performance, be it in a huge arena or a small cafe, is an exciting experience. But here in the U.S., a very different kind of performance is gaining popularity: house concerts. “There's just a totally unique experience as opposed to playing like a coffee shop or a bar." More

  • Lee Surrenders to Grant at Appomatox

    Audio Southern General Robert E. Lee Surrenders at Appomattox

    General Robert E. Lee’s military skill and intelligence helped extend the war between the states. But even his skill could not save the South from the industrial power of the North and its mighty armies -- armies that were better-fed and better-equipped. On Sunday, August 9, Lee surrendered. More

  • Uganda Playground for Disabled Children

    Audio Helping Uganda’s Disabled Children Play

    You may think that all children have freedom to play. But for children who look differently from others or have physical disabilities, the idea of play can seem far away. An organization in Uganda is seeking to change that. Read on to learn words needed to talk about this sometimes difficult topic. More

  • A microneedle used to inject glaucoma medications into the eye is shown next to a liquid drop from a conventional eye dropper. (Georgia Tech Photo: Gary Meek

    Audio Tiny Needles Treat Eye Disease

    Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness around the world. In the United States, more than two million people suffer from the disease. Now, researchers are developing very small needles that may offer a more effective and painless treatment for glaucoma and other eye diseases. More

  • The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement in Las Vegas

    Audio Mob Museum Tells About the Mafia in America

    The U.S. government has long used public money to fight organized crime. Now, public money is also paying for a museum in Las Vegas to tell about "The Mob,” and not everyone is happy about that. But some say it helps the local economy by bringing people to a part of Las Vegas that few visit. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs