Definition of monkey in English:



  • 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)

    • ‘I have lived with everything from monkeys to gerbils and those experiences taught me an appreciation for creation in which I have never forgotten.’
    • ‘As earlier research had shown, they found a major split among lice species that live on apes and on monkeys and other primates.’
    • ‘These monkeys live in small family groups in which infants are cared for by both parents.’
    • ‘For decades the hill has drawn the attention of hikers due to its accessibility and the antics of a large population of Formosan rock macaque monkeys that live on the hill.’
    • ‘If these differences had evolved in savannahs or forests, then they should be reflected in monkeys and apes that live in these habitats today.’
    • ‘The other group of 30 monkeys lives on Mount Ohira in central Japan.’
    • ‘A tropical rainforest reserve surrounds the town and a huge variety of butterflies and screaming monkeys live among its 50-metre trees.’
    • ‘The CGß gene first arose in the common ancestor of the anthropoid primates (New World monkeys, Old World monkeys, apes, and humans), after the anthropoids diverged from tarsiers.’
    • ‘Simakobus are medium-sized monkeys, weighing about 20 pounds.’
    • ‘By contrast, many Old World monkeys, such as baboons and macaques, live longer, start to reproduce later, and have more time between babies.’
    • ‘Like humans, apes and monkeys have to live in complex social groupings in which guile is needed to get ahead or simply to survive.’
    • ‘He had been visiting an area zoo when a monkey swung from its tree perch, swiped his glasses and hurled them into a hippo hole.’
    • ‘Insect- and snake-eaters follow troops of monkeys, catching the insects and tree snakes that the monkeys disturb.’
    • ‘It was a place where you can see wild monkeys living in the trees.’
    • ‘Branches and twigs were also used by the monkeys to probe tree holes and rock crevices for insects, honey, or water.’
    • ‘Several serial duplications in the beta subunit are found in apes and Old World monkeys but not other primates.’
    • ‘They conclude that the gene began to deteriorate after the split between New and Old World primates but before the Old World monkeys and apes diverged.’
    • ‘Studies with monkeys, for example, suggest that timid monkeys live longer.’
    • ‘Troops of langur monkeys scamper across limbs of ancient banyan trees.’
    • ‘It is home to the giant panda, the snub-nosed monkey and the dove tree.’
    1. 1.1 (in general use) any primate.
      • ‘Instead, they were looking at me curiously, like I was a particularly absorbing monkey at the zoo.’
      • ‘So you don't dispute the fact that Step 1 was a jump of some kind from monkeys to humans, the simian virus into humans?’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘He clambers over the machinery with the agility of a monkey, hanging at giddy angles to watch Siegfried's latest bit of boorish behaviour.’
      • ‘History is the relationship of the transmission of ideas that no monkey could ever understand, by human beings from generation to generation.’
      • ‘This may reflect differences in forest ecology or between monkeys, but it does suggest caution about generalising from over simple models.’
      • ‘One can't help but think of that story of those mythical monkeys at a computer, randomly trying to generate Shakespeare.’
      • ‘I cut out pictures of monkeys from old magazines, and by the week before half-term, my project book was bulging with them.’
      simian, primate, ape
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2 A mischievous person, especially a child.
      ‘where have you been, you little monkey!’
      • ‘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
      View synonyms
    3. 1.3 A person who is dominated or controlled by another (with reference to the monkey traditionally kept by an organ-grinder).
      • ‘The attraction of this film is watching it all go wrong and seeing the organ grinder savaged by his own monkey.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘One day you just get tired of being the monkey and want to be the organ grinder…’
  • 2British informal A sum of £500.

  • 3A piledriving machine consisting of a heavy hammer or ram working vertically in a groove.


  • 1monkey withno object Behave in a silly or playful way.

    ‘I saw them monkeying about by the shop’
    • ‘He then sidles brazenly up to Dusty and Recondo who are monkeying around with a GI Joe bike.’
    • ‘So don't monkey around - break out the pen and paper, and write away!’
    • ‘With a bottomless budget, why monkey around trying to retrofit fiberglass?’
    • ‘This is just the place for those who like to monkey around.’
    • ‘When she was little, back in New Orleans, she was monkeying around with the kids.’
    • ‘When I first started this, the template was of course the very first thing I monkeyed about with.’
    • ‘Researchers aren't monkeying around when they say that more attention should be given to estrogen levels during pregnancy.’
    • ‘If for nothing else, stop by just to monkey around a bit!’
    • ‘I've got wives to take care of, kids to take care of, and I don't have time to monkey around.’
    • ‘My brother and I were monkeying around and he was pretending to try to throw me to the ground.’
    fool about, fool around, play about, play around, clown about, clown around, fiddle-faddle, footle about, footle around
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1monkey with Tamper with.
      ‘don't monkey with that lock!’
      • ‘When we monkey with fats, they're raised in very high temperatures and react with hydrogen gas to make them solid or semisolid, and this deforms fat molecules in unhealthy ways.’
      • ‘He monkeyed endlessly with the rabbit-ears antenna.’
      • ‘I figure a superhuman spirit is capable of monkeying with natural phenomena at times.’
      • ‘For both practical and theoretical reasons, politicians and regulators should resist the temptation to monkey around with fuel markets.’
      • ‘They don't really monkey with the playwright's words.’
      • ‘We could, of course, monkey with the control panel ourselves.’
      • ‘This could turn out to be a factor in close primaries if Republicans whose candidate is already chosen decide to monkey with the Democratic primary.’
      • ‘Gilligan sought - and found - a man who paltered with the truth and monkeyed with the work of officials.’
      • ‘It would seem that just as only they can be trusted to reform health care, only they have the moral authority to monkey with Crown corporations.’
      • ‘The CIA, Graham said, were monkeying with democracy.’
      • ‘Simon can't resist monkeying with some of the arrangements either.’
      • ‘In my view, the less you monkey around with your money, and the more often you save, the more enjoyable and easier it will become.’
      • ‘He monkeyed with the courts, and didn't hire enough judges to do the work.’
      • ‘They also fear that the province could monkey with the traditional rule of thumb that sees the poor pay one-quarter of their income for their homes.’
      • ‘For a big fancy re-release, they haven't really gone in and monkeyed with success too much.’
      • ‘The city emerged from trusteeship under a new mayor, but he too cooked the books and monkeyed with zoning for his own ends.’
      • ‘Clearly, monkeying around with elections is an idea whose time has come.’
      • ‘If you've ever been there, you know that nobody there would ever monkey around with a security badge.’
      • ‘Europeans were more likely to treat infrastructure as sacrosanct, while the U.S. was only too happy to monkey with GPS for tactical reasons.’
      • ‘And yet she's going to go on trial for allegedly monkeying around with a few hundred thousand dollars worth of stock.’
      tamper with, fiddle with, interfere with, meddle with, tinker with, handle without permission, touch without permission, play with, fool with, trifle with
      View synonyms
  • 2archaic with object Ape; mimic.

    ‘then marched the Three who monkeyed our Great and Dead’
    imitate, copy, impersonate, do an impression of, take off, do an impersonation of, do, ape, caricature, mock, make fun of, parody, satirize, lampoon, burlesque, travesty
    View synonyms


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

    • informal Extremely clever or mischievous.

      ‘plot-wise, it was as mischievous as a wagonload of monkeys’
      • ‘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!’
      • ‘With brilliant skill, LuaLua makes a monkey of Basturk on the right wing and crosses into the box.’
      • ‘I was wrong, you finally made a monkey out of me.’
      • ‘They've finally made a monkey out of me at this website.’
      • ‘Sir, she's making a monkey out of you!’
      • ‘Most observers agree that he made a monkey of out of the president in his first term.’
      • ‘The meteorologists make a monkey of me once again.’
      • ‘He blazed it wide and missed the target again after making a monkey of Neilson and cutting inside dangerously.’
      • ‘Desmond said, ‘You'll never make a monkey out of me!’’
      • ‘With his back to goal, he made a monkey out of Desailly by turning him inside out before blasting the ball wide from about three yards out.’
      • ‘I could make a monkey out of you, but why should I take all the credit?’
      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
      View synonyms
  • a monkey on one's back

    • 1informal A burdensome problem.

      ‘the issue of her absence from the tournament last year remains the monkey on her back’
      • ‘One of the biggest problems for the current management and players is to rid themselves of the notion that there's a monkey on their back.’
      • ‘It was like having a monkey on your back that you just can't get rid of.’
      • ‘When we signed Maurice, we did so because he was a good footballer, but, yes, it was a monkey on our back that we knew we had to get rid of.’
      • ‘The North, understandably still stuck in an anti-British mode, couldn't bring itself to throw this particular monkey off its back.’
      • ‘‘That mountain was a monkey on my back,’ says the father of three, who's been lauded for his willingness to turn around tantalizingly close to a summit if conditions are dicey.’
      • ‘Is retro therefore almost a monkey on your back when trying to get your new product off the ground?’
      • ‘The Sox outfielder echoed his manager's frustration: ‘We don't have a monkey on our back,’ he told the wire service, ‘We have a gorilla.’’
      • ‘He triumphed after finishing runner-up for three years in a row, a record his described as ‘a monkey on his back’.’
      • ‘Some might say you've got a bit of a monkey on your back, to try to get that off to win the championship.’
      • ‘I don't think there's a monkey on my back yet.’
      1. 1.1A dependence on drugs.
        ‘she returned to her family with the heroin monkey on her back’
        • ‘‘Yup, it's an addiction, a monkey on my back,’ he said.’
  • not give (or care) a monkey's

    • informal Be completely indifferent or unconcerned.

      ‘he doesn't give a monkey's what we think about him’
      • ‘‘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.’’
      • ‘The fact is, of course, that the computing world's black hat brigade don't give a monkey's what platform you're using.’
      • ‘He doesn't give a monkey's about being liked and is not averse to sledging markers to disrupt their concentration for advantage.’
      • ‘When you're young and single, you really don't give a monkey's.’
      • ‘‘I don't give a monkey's what people say,’ she says in her no-nonsense east London accent.’
      • ‘They don't give a monkey's about people like me.’
      • ‘I know I'm letting you down, but right now, I don't give a monkey's.’
      • ‘Indeed, he made it clear that he didn't give a monkey's about the affair, or any of its ramifications.’
      • ‘Now the doctor didn't give a monkey's; he's getting $10,000 just for writing a prescription.’
      • ‘If you don't give a monkey's about hearts and minds, morality can go by the boards without affecting your chances of victory one iota.’


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