March 26, 2013

Case File #013.03.26: MONKEY

As you probably already know, most scientists believe that humans and monkeys share a common ancestor. But do you also know that some etymologists and lexicographers believe the word monkey shares its pedigree with a fox? Specifically, it's Reynard the Fox, an anthropomorphized canine who is the titular hero of a satirical beast epic, told mostly in verse, that was popular throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and up into the early sixteenth century. In a Middle Low German version of Reynard's poem that was published circa 1500, a new tertiary character appeared: Moneke, the son of a secondary character named Martin the Ape. According to literary scholars, this new version of the poem was not initially translated into English via the printed page, but rather, it was relayed to English-speaking audiences by way of itinerant entertainers such as minstrels. And some etymologists suggest that this is when the word monkey swung onto the scene. You see, it seems that the sixteenth-century minstrels who performed the poem managed to make a monkey out of Moneke when they tried to Anglicize the young ape's name.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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