Posted by ESC on April 24, 2000
In Reply to: Cutting the monkey posted by ESC on April 24, 2000
: : In reading Zora Neale Hurston's _Their Eyes Were Watching God_ I've come upon the phrase "cutting the monkey" several times (or variations of it). Anyone know its origin or meaning?
: I heard an African American comic talk about being criticized by members of his race for "cutting monkey shines" in front of white people. Meaning, as I understood it, acting all jolly in a manner that would please the white folks. Acting a fool. Pandering, I guess you could call it.
The "Encylopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997) has this entry: "monkeyshines; monkey business -- 'You may have barefooted boys cutting up 'monkeyshines' on trees with entire safety to themselves,' observes one of the earliest writers to use 'monkeyshines,' monkey-like antics, which is first recorded in 1828. 'Monkey business' was recorded a little earlier, at the beginning of the century, both words suggested by the increasing number of monkeys imported by America's growing circuses and zoos."