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Posted by Lewis on March 21, 2003

In Reply to: Shines posted by ESC on March 18, 2003

: : : : Any idea as to the etymology of the word "monkey-shine"? Thanks in advance for any assistance.

: : : MONKEYSHINES; MONKEY BUSINESS - "Foolish or mischievous activity. One assumes the sly, alert, advantage-taking behavior of the monkey gave rise to this notion." This source cites a use of the phrase "monkey business" in a 1904 Brooklyn Standard Union newspaper article. From "The Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985). A second reference has earlier dates for the phrases. " '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." From From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997). I heard another more recent use of the term "monkeyshines." A young black comedian in the U.S. said older blacks had accused him of "cutting monkeyshines" in front of a white audience - acting in a stereotypical demeaning manner to get laughs.

: : Thanks for the information. Any idea as to how "shines" came to mean "tricks" or "capers"?

: Nope, not a clue.

: A "shine" is a "prank or caper." She cut a shine. From "Southern Mountain Speech" by Cratis D. Williams (Berea College Press, Ky., 1992)

the use of "shine" goes back to smuggling in the early era of excise duty on spirits. yokels would sometimes hide contraband under water and go to retrieve it using nets. if challenged as to why they were casting nets into water at night, they would play dumb with the constable/excise man and say they were "trying to catch moonshine" hence why untaxed spirits are called moonshine. Apparently they got away with it for years. I think that the locale was somewhere on the south coast of England, but the Irish will probably argue a case for somewhere there.