Monkey business

Monkey business is an idiom dating to the 1800s. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the idiom monkey business, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Monkey business may refer to a silly waste of time or effort; it may mean partaking in shenanigans, mischief, or horseplay. However, monkey business may also refer to more a dishonest act or immoral conduct. For instance, a child who plays the clown in class may be said to be instigating monkey business. On the other hand, an accountant who is hiding losses in a company’s books may also may be said to be up to some monkey business. The expression monkey business came into use in the mid-1800s and has been traced to the expression in Sanskrit, vānara-karman, which may translate as monkey action or monkey work.


The monkey business allegedly occurred Saturday after the 20-year-old computer science student awoke at 11 a.m. to discover that his smartphone was gone, reports the BBC. (The New York Post)

The popular vote should be given a chance to be counted, and there should be no monkey business in the Electoral College with electors ignoring the will of the people. (Terre Haute Tribune Star)

County commissioners will entertain a public hearing about some monkey business during their June 15 meeting. (The Mountaineer)

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