Monkey On Your Back – Meaning and Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

A monkey on your back means that you’re burdened by a problem, obligation, or some kind of addiction. Think of it as that pesky little critter who won’t let go, no matter how much you try.

Its origin comes from the image of a person carrying an unshakeable amount of anger around, but it’s evolved in usage today. Idioms like this one aren’t meant to have literal meanings. They’re metaphorical expressions we use to communicate in more visual ways.

Read on to learn the deeper meaning behind this phrase and see how to use it in a sentence with examples.

What Is the Meaning of Monkey on My Back?

Monkey On Your Back – Meaning and Origin

To have a monkey on your back means you are grappling with a significant problem or a severe addiction that remains unresolved and is difficult to shake off. Think of it as an enduring burden, much like a persistent monkey clinging tenaciously to your shoulder.

Is It Monkey on My Back or Monkey Off My Back?

The phrase monkey on my back refers to a lingering problem or responsibility, but monkey off my back is about shedding that very burden. It’s the sweet relief you feel when you finally deal with that nagging issue. They’re two sides of the same simian coin.

 Monkey on My Back Origin and Etymology

Monkey on Your Back Ngram
Monkey on your back usage trend.

The origins of this idiom date back to the mid-1800s when it was initially used to describe a person who appeared consistently irritable or angry. However, its contemporary association, particularly with issues like addiction, gained prominence in the mid-20th century.

There is also an Aesop’s Fable about a monkey riding on a dolphin’s back. In the story, the dolphin initially mistook the monkey for a man and helped it but later had to find a way to remove the monkey when realizing its true identity. Some suggest that the idiom may have drawn inspiration from this tale.

Another potential origin for this idiom is its association with the devil. Throughout history, monkeys have been linked to evil forces, including the devil and heresy, possibly due to their distorted resemblance to humans. Additionally, the devil has occasionally been depicted as a distorted, monkey-like creature riding on a person’s back.

References to a monkey on one’s back can be found in various literary works, including Sinbad’s tales. However, these references are not necessarily more likely to be the origin than any other, possibly alluding to an earlier source.

It is worth noting that in Eastern symbolism, the monkey symbolizes a distracted mind, which aligns with the idiom’s concept due to the monkey’s incessant chatter.

Monkey on Your Back Synonyms

  • Albatross around your neck
  • Weight on your shoulders
  • Cross to bear
  • Bugbear
  • Heavy load

Examples of Monkey on My Back in a Sentence

Monkey On Your Back – Meaning and Origin 1

  • The constant pressure of her personal assistant job felt like a monkey on her back.
  • I’ve finally quit smoking; I got that monkey off my back.
  • Isn’t it time you address that monkey on your back and talk to your father about what happened that day so many years ago?
  • For years, that secret of what he did felt like a monkey on Andy’s back.
  • The burden of being a hero to the world was like a monkey on his back.
  • Dealing with her mother’s addictions was a constant monkey on her back for her entire childhood.
  • Dave’s finally in therapy, addressing the monkey on his back.
  • For Lily, her crippling debt was the monkey on her back she wished she could shake off.

Get That Monkey Off Your Back

Monkey on your back is a quirky idiom, pulling visuals from the animal kingdom to capture human struggles and burdens. Now that you’ve conquered this one, swing over to the site and read my other idiomatic guides!

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