Saturday, June 4, 2022


was watching something on the TV when I heard a character use the expression “Softly softly catchee monkey.” It reminded me that I had posted about it in Bytes some years back, quite some years when I checked, when things were not as PC as they are today. Now the expression would be frowned upon because of the Asian stereotyping but the origin remains of interest so I am reposting it, with additional content.

It formed part of a post about Monkeyisms and was posted on March 12, 2011 . . .

Softly Softly Catchee Monkey


Achieving success requires careful and quite planning and strategy.


There are various versions before Baden-Powell popularised it:

Actress, Mary Wells (later Mrs Mary Sumbel), records in her 1811 book Memoirs of the Life of Mrs Sumbel listening to a black preacher in London:
Though there was no long-sounding chapter or high-numbered verse from which it was taken, I was convinced notwithstanding, by the arguments of the sooty Ethiopian*, that patience and perseverance will overcome many obstacles. The words were as follow:– “Softly, softly, brethren, and you’ll catch a monkey!”

* Ethiopian was then a common term for any black person.
The Morning Post of 23 Apr. 1846 contained the following:
“Prudens qui patiens” was, if we mistake not, the motto of the great Lord Coke. A sort of paraphrase of it is current among the sable objects** of Exeter Hall** sympathy — “Softly, softly, catch monkey.”

**At the time, Exeter Hall in the Strand was the headquarters of the anti-slavery movement in London, so sable object is an oblique reference to black Africans.
Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts (and the author of the unfortunately named “Scouting For Boys”) spent time in Ghana with the Ashanti. Whilst there he heard the phrase used and recorded it in his book, popularising the expression in so doing:
If it were not for the depressing heat and the urgency of the work, one could sit down and laugh to tears at the absurdity of the thing, but under the circumstances it is a little "wearing." But our motto is the old West Coast proverb, "Softly, Softly, Catchee Monkey"; in other words, "Don't flurry; patience gains the day." It was in joke suggested as a maxim for our levy of softly-sneaking scouts, but we came to adopt it as our guiding principle, and I do not believe that a man acting on any other principle could organise a native levy on the West Coast-and live.


The phrase was later adopted as the motto of the Lancashire Constabulary’s Training School. It was advice to aspiring police officers that a bull-headed approach wasn’t the best way to nab criminals. This inspired the title of the British television police series, Softly Softly, from 1966 onwards.

Monkey On My Back

1. drug addiction
2. a state of constant worry and distress


The expression dates from the 1940’s, a jazz term for heroin addiction. The implication is that dealing with heroin is as difficult as having a monkey continually on one’s back.


Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey

The title of a song written by John Lennon for the Beatles White Album. The expression comes from a quote by the Maharishi Maresh Yogi that “Everybody’s got something to hide.” In respect of the “except me and my monkey” part, George Harrison has stated that he did not "know where that came from".

John Lennon said in 1980 that “me and my monkey” referred to himself and Yoko Ono:
That was just a sort of nice line that I made into a song. It was about me and Yoko. Everybody seemed to be paranoid except for us two, who were in the glow of love. Everything is clear and open when you're in love. Everybody was sort of tense around us - you know, 'What is she doing here at the session? Why is she with him?' All this sort of madness is going on around us because we just happened to want to be together all the time.

John Lennon
Rolling Stone, 1980
Paul McCartney believes that the monkey was not Yoko Ono but heroin, hence the words in the song “The deeper you go the higher you fly". Apart from the monkey reference being a drug term, as noted above, Lennon and Ono had begun using heroin in 1968, the same year as the song was written.
He was getting into harder drugs than we'd been into and so his songs were taking on more references to heroin. Until that point we had made rather mild, oblique references to pot or LSD. Now John started talking about fixes and monkeys and it was a harder terminology which the rest of us weren't into. We were disappointed that he was getting into heroin because we didn't really see how we could help him. We just hoped it wouldn't go too far. In actual fact, he did end up clean but this was the period when he was on it. It was a tough period for John, but often that adversity and that craziness can lead to good art, as I think it did in this case.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

One Monkey Don’t Stop the Show


A minor glitch should not be allowed to interrupt the main proceedings or project.


Believed to originally be an African-American proverb. It first appeared as a title of a blues song in 1955 and was covered by The Animals, as well as Joe Tex in the 60s

Not my circus, not my monkeys.

Polish proverb meaning “Don’t drag me into your drama and your issues—I’m not getting involved.”

In the original Polish, there is one lone mischievous monkey, instead of a plural number of monkeys.


“I’ll be a money’s uncle.”

An expression used to indicate surprise, astonishment, amazement, shock, and sometimes disbelief or skepticism.

The expression began as a sarcastic response to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. After Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, the foundation of the evolutionary theory, he published The Descent of Man in 1871. People read the book as putting forward humans had descended from apes and were closely related to modern apes. This claim was considered ridiculous and offensive, since most people believed that humans were created by God. Although it is unclear who originally coined the phrase, “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle” became a popular response to Darwin’s theory. This phrase was later extended to general use as an expression of great doubt or disbelief. Today, it is more often used to express surprise or shock, often in response to quite mild revelations.

A caricature of Charles Darwin as an ape published in The Hornet, a satirical magazine.


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