the organ grinder, not the monkey

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A 19th-century photograph of an organ grinder with a monkey.

From the common 19th-century practice of organ grinders training monkeys to dance to music played on a barrel organ in order to perform on the street and solicit donations.


  • (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /ðiː ˈɔːɡən ˌɡɹaɪndə nɒt ðə ˈmʌŋki/
  • (General American) IPA(key): /ði ˈɔɹɡən ˌɡɹaɪndəɹ nɑt ðə ˈmʌŋki/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ʌŋki
  • Hyphenation: the or‧gan grind‧er, not the monk‧ey


the organ grinder, not the monkey (plural the organ grinders, not the monkeys)

  1. (idiomatic) Synonym of organ grinder (the person who is in charge, rather than a lackey or representative; the person truly responsible for another's actions)
    • 1976 March 5, Eric Ogden, “Second Reading of the English Development Agencies Bill”, in House of Commons Debates (House of Commons of the United Kingdom)‎[1], volume 906, London: Parliament of the United Kingdom:
      If my hon. Friend said that the headquarters of the Board was to be situated in one of the regions, that would be some help. We need more than branch offices and subsidiaries. We want the organ grinders, not the monkeys.
    • 1981, New Society: The Social Science Weekly, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 240, column 3:
      And really it is the organ-grinder, not the monkey, who should be shot.
    • 1986 June 5, John Banks, “Local Government Amendment Bill (No. 2): Report of Internal Affairs and Local Government Committee”, in Parliamentary Debates (Hansard): Second Session, Forty-first Parliament (New Zealand House of Representatives), volume 471, Wellington: V. R. Ward, government printer, →OCLC, page 1968:
      Every submission stated that the Bill is not needed, yet the Minister has the temerity to come into the House and try to justify it. We wanted to hear from the organ-grinder, not the monkey. We heard today from both of them, and they both had the same message.
    • 2005, Christopher Foster, “Laws that Work”, in British Government in Crisis: or The Third English Revolution, Oxford, Oxfordshire; Portland, Or.: Hart Publishing, →ISBN, part 1 (The Old Regime), page 48:
      The more a minister allowed the details of a bill to reflect compromises between the various interests, the more work could be left to officials. But if a bill were controversial, while civil servants could prepare the ground and clarify the issues, the interests opposed, as Aneurin Bevan put it, expected to see the minister, the organ-grinder, not the monkey.
    • 2013, Martin Horsey, “Using Tharp Think to Go from Full-time Broker to Full-time Trader”, in Van K. Tharp, Trading beyond the Matrix: The Red Pill for Traders and Investors, Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, →ISBN, page 83:
      I was giving up security and a lucrative salary package to become my own employer and trade financial futures with my own money. [] I wanted to be the organ grinder, not the monkey. For years, I had explained to my clients how I was eventually going to be a trader, and now I was going to prove my point.
    • 2017, John Wilton, “Symposio Restaurant”, in Lindos Aletheia, [London]: PublishNation, →ISBN, page 33:
      "I mentioned it to him, but to be honest, he didn't seem that interested. He said something to the effect that he wanted to write about the organ grinders, not the monkeys. He seemed determined to meet them, the organ grinders, as he referred to them." / "What did he mean by that?" / "It's a saying in England, Inspector. I assumed he meant the big bosses behind it, the people shipping it in, and not the small-time pushers like Tony Carpentar."

Usage notes[edit]

  • Often used with speak to or talk to: “I want to speak to the organ grinder, not the monkey!”

Alternative forms[edit]

Related terms[edit]