softly, softly, catchee monkey

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Alternative forms[edit]


Although the phrase is attested with non-standard catchee mainly from the twentieth century, Eric Partridge suggests it was probably coined in the late nineteenth.[1] Quotations from the mid-nineteenth century use catch or caught the monkey. Benham's Book of Quotations suggests the phrase originated from Black English, but this is uncertain.[2]


softly, softly, catchee monkey

  1. Proceed cautiously or gently to achieve an objective.
    • 1840, Archer Polson and James Grant, Law and Lawyers; or, Sketches and Illustrations of Legal History and Biography, London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green & Longmans, OCLC 4342654:
      "Prudens qui patiens," was the motto of our great Coke : a motto which the negro pithily paraphrases — "Softly, softly, catch monkey."
    • 1920, John Hargrave, The Wigwam Papers and Totem Talks, London: C. Arthur Pearson, OCLC 2772484, page 33:
      the really important part of Scouting is to become good Scouts — "wise old birds," in fact. "Softly, softly, catchee monkey!" Not by making a row, but by cunning and kindness
    • 1950, “Conference Conundrums”, in The Journal – Institute of Journalists, volume 38, page 148:
      Having failed to secure a Press Council of the sort they wanted, they are now trying, in a small way, to get something established — on the old principle of ‘Softly, softly, catchee monkey.’
  2. Capture a target without startling it to run away.
    • 2013 March 31, Gina Hoisington, “The Logic of My Anger: A Sociopath's Tale of Vengeance”, in BDSM Library[1]:
      Softly, softly, catchee monkey, I thought to myself....slow and sure was the way with a woman like this.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Partridge, Eric (1977) A Dictionary of Catch Phrases : British and American, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul
  2. ^ Benham, William Gurney (1948) Book of Quotations, Proverbs and Household Words, London: Ward