Definition of monkey in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈmʌŋki/

noun (plural monkeys)

1A small to medium-sized primate that typically has a long tail, most kinds of which live in trees in tropical countries.
  • Families Cebidae and Callitrichidae (or Callithricidae) (New World monkeys, often with prehensile tails), and Cercopithecidae (Old World monkeys, without prehensile tails).
Example sentences
  • It was a place where you can see wild monkeys living in the trees.
  • By contrast, many Old World monkeys, such as baboons and macaques, live longer, start to reproduce later, and have more time between babies.
  • If these differences had evolved in savannahs or forests, then they should be reflected in monkeys and apes that live in these habitats today.
1.1(In general use) any primate.
Example sentences
  • In general, monkeys are important figures in the mythologies of Asia.
  • The answer is that the only other animal that comes with a pair of hands is a monkey, and monkeys aren't generally very efficient.
  • This may reflect differences in forest ecology or between monkeys, but it does suggest caution about generalising from over simple models.
simian, primate, ape
1.2A mischievous person, especially a child: where have you been, you little monkey!
More example sentences
  • Well, we've definitely heard of mischievous monkeys but Charlie is just cheeky, I think we can safely say.
rascal, imp, wretch, mischief-maker, devil, rogue
informal scamp, scallywag, horror, tyke, monster
British informal perisher
North American informal varmint, hellion
informal, dated rip
British informal, dated pickle
archaic scapegrace, rapscallion
1.3A person who is dominated or controlled by another (with reference to the monkey traditionally kept by an organ-grinder).
Example sentences
  • That said, head office still seems to be populated by an unmanageable number of monkeys.
  • I have read of accounts in the media of people being mistreated as a public servant, monkeys on computers, people leaving due to stress and mistreatment.
  • The lesson was that if you present your party as the prospective junior government partner, voters will opt for the organ grinder rather than the monkey.
2British informal A sum of £500.
3 (also monkey engine) A piledriving machine consisting of a heavy hammer or ram working vertically in a groove.

verb (monkeys, monkeying, monkeyed)

1 [no object] (monkey about/around) Behave in a silly or playful way: I saw them monkeying about by the shop
More example sentences
  • My brother and I were monkeying around and he was pretending to try to throw me to the ground.
  • So don't monkey around - break out the pen and paper, and write away!
  • This is just the place for those who like to monkey around.
fool about/around, play about/around, clown about/around, fiddle-faddle, footle about/around
informal mess about/around, horse about/around, lark (about/around), screw around, puddle about/around
British informal muck about/around, fanny about/around
British vulgar slang piss about/around, arse about/around, bugger about/around
1.1 (monkey with) Tamper with: don’t monkey with that lock!
More example sentences
  • Simon can't resist monkeying with some of the arrangements either.
  • The CIA, Graham said, were monkeying with democracy.
  • I figure a superhuman spirit is capable of monkeying with natural phenomena at times.
tamper with, fiddle with, interfere with, meddle with, tinker with, touch/handle without permission, play with, fool with, trifle with
informal mess with, dick around with
British informal muck about/around with
2 [with object] archaic Ape; mimic: then marched the Three who monkeyed our Great and Dead



as artful (or clever) as a wagonload (or cartload) of monkeys

British informal Extremely clever or mischievous: plot-wise, it was as mischievous as a wagonload of monkeys
More example sentences
  • He immediately named his replacement, describing him as: ‘Highly inventive, with a real love for film and as clever as a wagonload of monkeys’.

make a monkey of (or out of) someone

Humiliate someone by making them appear ridiculous: he thinks he can make a monkey out of me, but he’s got another think coming!
More example sentences
  • Desmond said, ‘You'll never make a monkey out of me!’
  • The meteorologists make a monkey of me once again.
  • They've finally made a monkey out of me at this website.
make someone look a fool, make someone look foolish, make a fool of, make a laughing stock of, ridicule, deride, make fun of, poke fun at;
set someone up, play a trick on

a monkey on one's back

A burdensome problem: the issue of her absence from the tournament last year remains the monkey on her back
More example sentences
  • The North, understandably still stuck in an anti-British mode, couldn't bring itself to throw this particular monkey off its back.
  • It was like having a monkey on your back that you just can't get rid of.
  • Is retro therefore almost a monkey on your back when trying to get your new product off the ground?
3.1A dependence on drugs: she returned to her family with the heroin monkey on her back
More example sentences
  • ‘Yup, it's an addiction, a monkey on my back,’ he said.

not give (or care) a monkey's

British informal Be completely indifferent or unconcerned: he doesn’t give a monkey’s what we think about him
More example sentences
  • ‘Mrs B,’ as he is wont to describe his wife Katie, ‘doesn't give a monkey's what I say, at least not on matters political.’
  • He doesn't give a monkey's about being liked and is not averse to sledging markers to disrupt their concentration for advantage.
  • ‘I don't give a monkey's what people say,’ she says in her no-nonsense east London accent.



Example sentences
  • That's the group of people who each of us, using our monkeyish brains, are able to conceptualize as people.
  • ‘That is why I need to act,’ explained Barcél, with a crude sweep of his monkeyish hands.


Mid 16th century: of unknown origin, perhaps from Low German.

  • The origin of monkey seems to go back to a name given to the monkey character in medieval beast epics, which may ultimately be Arabic. Historically, ape was used as the general term for all apes and monkeys, and appears much earlier in English. People often associate monkeys with mischief and mimicry. British monkey tricks ‘mischievous behaviour’ are monkeyshines (mid 19th century) in the USA. The use of monkey business for ‘mischievous behaviour’ seems to have come from India. If you don't give a monkey's you do not care at all. This phrase, recorded from the late 19th century, is a shortening of something ruder, such as don't give a monkey's ass or f—. The slang sense of a monkey, for £500 (or, in Australia, $500), is much older than you might expect, going back to the 1830s, and a pony, or £25, is from the late 18th century. See also brass, cheek

Words that rhyme with monkey

chunky, clunky, flunkey, funky, hunky, junkie, junky, punky, spunky

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: mon¦key

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