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Softly, softly, catchee monkey
Posted: 12 July 2007 03:27 AM   [ Ignore ]
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A quick google links this variously to Baden Powell, Ghana, Italy, China and all points in between, or so it seems. Any ideas as to its first appearance in English and where it came from?

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Posted: 12 July 2007 03:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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1907 G. BENHAM Cassell’s Bk. of Quotations 849/1 ‘Softly, softly’ caught the monkey.{em}(Negro.)

This is OED’s earliest.

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Posted: 12 July 2007 05:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks, Flynn. I’ve done a little further digging and that African origin would tie in with this site,

THE DOWNFALL OF PREMPEH, A DIARY OF LIFE WITH THE NATIVE LEVY IN ASHANTI 1895-96 By Major R. S. S. Baden-Powell 13th Hussars, Commanding The Native Levy.

........ If it were not for the depressing heat and the urgency of the work, one could sit down and laugh to tears at the absurdity of the thing, but under the circumstances it is a little “wearing.” But our motto is the old West Coast proverb, “Softly, softly, catchee monkey”; in other words, “Don’t flurry; patience gains the day.” It was in joke suggested as a maxim for our levy of softly-sneaking scouts, but we came to adopt it as our guiding principle, and I do not believe that a man acting on any other principle could organise a native levy on the West Coast—and live. ..........

I wonder if this is the first appearance in English of the proverb. Presumably BP wrote this in 1895/6 but there’s no indication there of when it was published.

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Posted: 12 July 2007 08:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Published by Methuen and Co in 1896 according to Amazon

(Will you tell OED or shall I?!)

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Posted: 12 July 2007 02:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Via Google Books:

_Law and Lawyers_ (London, 1840): v. 1, p. 22: //"Prudens qui patiens,” was the motto of our great Coke: a motto which the negro pithily paraphrases-- “Softly, softly, catch monkey."//

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Posted: 12 July 2007 03:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Google Books comes up trumps again! That’s a considerable antedate.

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Posted: 13 July 2007 03:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Excellent! down to you then DW, to tell the OED ; )

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Posted: 07 October 2007 04:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I also find an citation from “Scottish proverbs, collected and arranged by A. Henderson” Edinburgh - Oliver and Boyd 1832
“safly, safly, catch monkey”

http://books.google.com/books?id=8Rg_JIjtDWgC&pg=PR57&dq=softly+monkey+date:1700-1850&num=100&as_brr=0

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Posted: 07 October 2007 05:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Well found, and welcome to Wordorigins!

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Posted: 07 October 2007 10:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Good work, John, and welcome too!  And thanks for showing me how to search google books within date parameters.  Using my new-found skill, I might have found an answer to aldi’s question about where it comes from.  Also from google books, courtesy of The Works of Jonathan Swift, Dublin 1757, though the poem appears to have been written in 1730:

Sly hunters thus, in Borneo’s isle,
To catch a monkey by a wile,
The mimic animal amuse;
They place before him gloves and shoes;
Which, when the brute puts awkward on,
All his agility is gone:
In vain to frisk or climb he tries;
The huntsmen seize the grinning prize.

Although it doesn’t mention “softly softly”, it relates to a place where pidgin English was spoken and to the guile needed to catch a monkey.

edited date

[ Edited: 07 October 2007 10:26 PM by ElizaD ]
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Posted: 08 October 2007 06:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Just for general reference, Google Books is filled with misdatings and misfilings. You absolutely cannot trust the dates that searching Google Books turns up. You must verify the date on the title page of the publication and also make sure that the page you are citing is actually from the same work listed on the title page. Google Books is also filled with works that have been mashed together (not unlike medieval codices which would contain several works written at different times in one binding).

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Posted: 08 October 2007 08:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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There was a British TV cop show in the ‘60s called Softly Softly. Would this be non-PC now?

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Posted: 09 October 2007 12:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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No, they’d still have PCs in it ... but not WPCs, a rank that has been abolished since then ...

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Posted: 09 October 2007 12:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Zythophile - 09 October 2007 12:14 PM

No, they’d still have PCs in it ... but not WPCs, a rank that has been abolished since then ...

very nice ...

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Posted: 11 October 2007 07:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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And Panda cars not a protected species? Underpowered Ford Escorts with ner-ner sirens and ossifers in slightly less silly hats than the bobby on the beat!
Tooled-up Capris. Leave it out, George. ‘E’s got a shooter, guv! Gritty realism arrives.

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Posted: 11 October 2007 09:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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IIRC, the Pandas (at least in Softly Softly’s predecessor, Z Cars) were Ford Anglias.

What do you call a female traffic cop?

Nina

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