Monkey see(s), monkey do(es), 1901, 1893

Geoffrey Steven Nathan geoffnathan at WAYNE.EDU
Tue Nov 19 22:26:26 UTC 2013

It appears to be an instance of a class of utterances that my colleague Ljiljana Progovac has spent the last few years investigating. She calls them 'non-sententials', and English has lots of them. From a (technical) syntactic point of view they generally seem to be tenseless clauses and other defective clauses (that is, they take bare verb forms), and they often come in pairs. She cites examples like:

Nothing ventured, nothing gained,
No harm, no foul
Once burned, twice shy

(they also occur as singletons: Case closed. Problem solved. Family first! Me first! John worry? Him happy?)

Here's a handy reference:

She has a much larger theory behind her analysis, which I find fascinating, but goes beyond ADS topics...

Geoffrey S. Nathan
Faculty Liaison, C&IT
and Professor, Linguistics Program
+1 (313) 577-1259 (C&IT)

Nobody at Wayne State will EVER ask you for your password. Never send it to anyone in an email, no matter how authentic the email looks.

----- Original Message -----

> From: "Ben Zimmer" <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
> Sent: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 4:29:28 PM
> Subject: Re: Monkey see(s), monkey do(es), 1901, 1893

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster: Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject: Re: Monkey see(s), monkey do(es), 1901, 1893
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

> On Tue, Nov 19, 2013 at 4:20 PM, Joel S. Berson wrote:
> >
> > As for "see/do" vs. "sees/does", is it an outmoded subjunctive -
> > "if
> > monkey see, monkey [will] do"?

> I had assumed "monkey see, monkey do" was supposed to be an imitation
> of Chinese Pidgin English, like "long time no see" or "look-see." But
> none of the early cites given so far have borne that out.

> --bgz

> --
> Ben Zimmer

> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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