softly, softly, catchee monkey
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. 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.
- 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."
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.’
- 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:
- Softly, softly, catchee monkey, I thought to myself....slow and sure was the way with a woman like this.