What Does Monkey Around Mean?

Monkeying Around Meaning

Definition: To play, goof around, or tinker.

Origin of Monkey Around

The origin of this expression is unclear. However, it has likely existed since at least the late 1800s.

Monkey originated around the 1500s. Over time, it has meant many different things. Of course, the most common meaning is the animal. Sometimes it can be an affectionate term for a child. Other times it can be a derogatory term for adults.

This idiom likely comes from the literal imagery of monkeys playing around. Unlike human games, which often have a goal (like in sports), monkeys’ games seem aimless. Therefore, someone monkeying around could be playing around without a specific purpose other than to mock, annoy, or goof off.

Likewise, if a monkey were trying to fix something, it wouldn’t have a clear idea of how to do so. Therefore, the tinkering definition of the idiom shows someone trying to repair something without knowing exactly how to do it.

Examples of Monkey Around

define monkeying aroundThis example shows two college students using the idiom while one is trying to study for an important exam and the other is goofing off.

Frank: Hey! Look at this! I can get these balls of papers to bounce off your head right into the trashcan.

Karl: Please stop that. I can’t focus with you messing around like that.

Frank: Just let me try it a few more times. See! I did it again! Perfect aim!

Karl: Stop monkeying around!

monkey around originIn this example, two friends are shopping for food at the grocery store.

Lily: Whee! I’m Cart Woman! I can use my superpowers to make the cart turn whichever way I want while I ride it. I’m not even using my hands!

Grace: Try to focus on getting the food. We don’t have time to monkey around! We’re in a rush!

More Examples

This excerpt shows notes from one journalist about how he copied text from other sources without making significant changes before adding it to his own newspaper.

  • I’m doing raw slabs of copy below. I didn’t correct spellings or monkey around with the text. The only exception: I added some first names in brackets to make cast and character citations clearer and I put in dashes on some words that were too ripe for L.A. Times copy editors. –LA Times

This excerpt is about baboons discovering a new type of fruit.

  • When it comes to grabbing fruit off trees, baboons don’t monkey around. Now their speed at gobbling up quickly ripening fruit has led to a discovery of what is believed to be a new type of tangerine. –LA Times

Summary

The phrase monkey around can mean to play or do random activities idly. It can also mean to try to fix something without knowing exactly how to make the repair.

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