c. 1600, in reference to human features or qualities, "characteristic of or resembling monkeys or apes," with -ian + Latin simia "ape," from simus "snub-nosed," from Greek simos "snub-nosed" (like the Scythians), also a masculine proper name, a word of unknown origin.
In 18c. and for a time after Latin Simia was taken as the genus name of the primates, hence the biological meaning "pertaining to monkeys" (by 1863). The noun meaning "an ape or monkey" is attested from 1880.
late 15c. (Caxton), "monkey," a sense now obsolete, from Dutch meerkat "monkey" (related to Old High German mericazza), apparently from meer "lake" (see mere (n.1)) + kat (see cat (n.)). But compare Hindi markat, Sanskrit markata "ape," which might serve as a source of a Teutonic folk-etymology, though the word was in Germanic before any known direct contact with India. The word was applied to the small South African mammals by 1801, probably via Dutch settlers, who seem to have applied the word to a variety of burrowing animals, perhaps via folk-etymology of a native word.
The little meerkats were surely created for the express purpose of being made into pet animals. Certainly no prettier or funnier little live toys could possibly be imagined. Nearly every homestead in the Karroo has its tame meerkat, or more likely two or three, all as much petted and indulged, and requiring as much looking after, as spoilt and mischievous children. [Annie Martin, "Home Life on an Ostrich Farm," 1890]
genus of extinct primates, 1895, from Modern Latin, literally "monkey-man," from Greek pithēkos "ape" (see pitheco-) + anthrōpos "man" (see anthropo-). Coined 1868 by Haeckel as a name for a hypothetical link between apes and men (attested in English in this sense from 1876); applied by Dr. Eugène Dubois, physician of the Dutch army in Java, to remains he found there in 1891. Classical plural would have been pithecanthropi. Related: Pithecanthrope; pithecanthropoid.
1520s, "brightness, radiance," from shine (v.). Indicating "sunshine," and paired with rain (n.), from 1620s. Meaning "polish given to a pair of boots" is from 1871.
For the American English slang meaning "a prank, a trick," see monkey-shines. Often also "a fancy, a liking," as in phrases such as take a shine to "fancy," American English slang from 1839; shine up to "attempt to please as a suitor by making a brilliant impression" (1882).
The derogatory meaning "black person" is attested by 1908, perhaps from glossiness of skin or, on another guess, from frequent employment as shoeshines.
late 13c., signifien, "be a sign of (a fact or alleged fact), indicate, mean," also "declare, make known by signs, speech, or action," from Old French signifier (12c.), from Latin significare "to make signs, show by signs, point out, express; mean, signify; foreshadow, portend," from significus (adj.), from signum "identifying mark, sign" (see sign (n.)) + combining form of facere "to make, to do" (from PIE root *dhe- "to set, put").
The intransitive sense of "be of importance" is attested from 1660s. The meaning "engage in mock-hostile banter" is African-American vernacular, by 1932. Related: Signified; signifying.
While writing this essay, I asked a colleague, Dwight Andrews, if he had heard of the Signifying Monkey as a child. "Why, no" he relied intently. "I never head of the Signifying Monkey until I came to Yale and read about him in a book." I had been signified upon. If I had responded to Andrews, "I know what you mean; your Mama read to me from that same book the last time I was in Detroit," I would have signified upon him in return. [Henry Louis Gates Jr., footnote in "Figures in Black," 1987]
mid-15c., "a monkey," also "an impertinent, conceited fellow, an absurd fop," a general term of reproach (in mid-15c. especially a contemptuous nickname for William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk), of unknown origin. Apparently from Jack of Naples, but whether this is some specific personification of Jack (which is attested from 16c. as "saucy or impertinent fellow") or folk etymology of jack (n.) + ape (n.) is unknown. See extensive note in OED. Century Dictionary suggests "orig., it is supposed, a man who exhibited performing apes." Farmer and Henley ("Slang and Its Analogues") say "originally, no doubt, a gaudy-suited and performing ape." Its fem. counterpart is Jane-of-apes (Massinger) "a pert, forward girl."
familiar term for an ass, 1785, also donky, donkie, originally slang or dialectal, of uncertain origin. Perhaps a diminutive from dun "dull gray-brown" (from Middle English donned, past participle of donnen "to lose color, fade, from Old English dunnian). Compare Dunning, name of a (dun) horse (mid-14c.), and see dun (adj.). The form perhaps was influenced by monkey.
Or perhaps it is from a familiar form of the proper name Duncan applied to an animal (compare dobbin). The older English word was ass (n.1). Applied to stupid, obstinate, or wrong-headed persons by 1840. In mechanics, used of small or supplementary apparatus from mid-19c. (donkey-engine, donkey-pump, etc.). Short form donk is by 1916.
1800, "animal that howls," originally in reference to the South American monkey, agent noun from howl (v.). Meaning "glaring blunder, ridiculous mistake" is first recorded 1890. In early telephony (1886 - c. 1920) the name of a device used by the exchange to produce a loud howl in the receiver to attract a subscriber who has not hung up his end of the connection.
Telephone companies are oftentimes annoyed by subscribers leaving the receivers off the hook—time is lost and the service is more or less impaired. The Kellogg Switchboard & Supply Company has recently issued a four-page folder descriptive of their "howler" equipment which is effectively used in remedying this evil. [Journal of Electricity, Power & Gas, vol. xxix, no. 6, Aug. 10, 1912]
Old English catt (c. 700) "domestic cat," from West Germanic (c. 400-450), from Proto-Germanic *kattuz (source also of Old Frisian katte, Old Norse köttr, Dutch kat, Old High German kazza, German Katze), from Late Latin cattus.
The near-universal European word now, it appeared in Europe as Latin catta (Martial, c. 75 C.E.), Byzantine Greek katta (c. 350) and was in general use on the continent by c. 700, replacing Latin feles. Probably ultimately Afro-Asiatic (compare Nubian kadis, Berber kadiska, both meaning "cat"). Arabic qitt "tomcat" may be from the same source. Cats were domestic in Egypt from c. 2000 B.C.E., but not a familiar household animal to classical Greeks and Romans. The nine lives have been proverbial at least since 1560s.
The Late Latin word also is the source of Old Irish and Gaelic cat, Welsh kath, Breton kaz, Italian gatto, Spanish gato, French chat (12c.). Independent, but ultimately from the same source are words in the Slavic group: Old Church Slavonic kotuka, kotel'a, Bulgarian kotka, Russian koška, Polish kot, along with Lithuanian katė and non-Indo-European Finnish katti, which is from Lithuanian.
Extended to lions, tigers, etc. c. 1600. As a term of contempt for a woman, from early 13c. Slang sense of "prostitute" is from at least c. 1400. Slang sense of "fellow, guy," is from 1920, originally in African-American vernacular; narrower sense of "jazz enthusiast" is recorded from 1931.
Cat's paw (1769, but cat's foot in the same sense, 1590s) refers to the old folk tale in which the monkey tricks the cat into pawing chestnuts from a fire; the monkey gets the roasted nuts, the cat gets a burnt paw. Cat burglar is from 1907, so called for stealth. Cat-witted "small-minded, obstinate, and spiteful" (1670s) deserved to survive. For Cat's meow, cat's pajamas, see bee's knees. For let the cat out of the bag, see bag (n.).
1560s, a general term of endearment (also puggy), perhaps related to or a variant of puck (n.2); one of the earliest senses of pug is "sprite, imp" (1610s). The sense of "miniature dog" is from 1749 (pug-dog); that of "monkey" is from 1660s, perhaps on the notion of having a pert, ugly face like a little imp.
In John Milesius any man may reade
Of divels in Sarmatia honored
Call'd Kottri or Kibaldi ; such as wee
Pugs and hobgoblins call. Their dwellings bee
In corners of old houses least frequented,
Or beneath stacks of wood ; and these convented
Make fearfull noise in buttries and in dairies,
Robin good-fellowes some, some call them fairies.
[Thomas Heywood, "Hierarchie of the Blessed Angells," 1635]
The word, or identical words, at various times also meant "a husk of grain" (mid-15c.), "a bargeman" (1590s), "a harlot" (c. 1600), and "an upper servant in a great house" (1843), the last, if it is authentic, perhaps with a suggestion of "lap dog."
"I've seen him, father," said Nelly with a consequential air, "the day I was up at Fairfield Court; he came into Pug's Hole while the old lady was talking to me." For the benefit of the unlearned it should be mentioned that the under-servants "in respectable families" call upper-servants "Pugs;" and that the housekeeper's room is designated as "Pug's Hole." [F.E. Paget, "Warden of Berkingholt," 1843]