I spent my whole life hearing and using the term “More fun than a barrel of monkeys.” When we are young, we usually don’t question such things.
I did…to the point of nearly driving me crazy.
For a time, I lived with my grandparents. I was five, a kindergartner. Whenever I would walk into my grandma’s kitchen and she was always busy. Baking, cooking, cleaning, or redoing the tack paper in the old metal cupboards.
“Grandma, what are you doing?” I would ask.
She would reply with her pat answer. “Playing pinochle with the boys down on Lake Street.”
That answer created a level of confusion for that young version of me beyond comprehension. After all, I was the same boy who could not find elemeno on the alphabet line in his kindergarten class. I could find A through K, and P through Z, but the letter elemeno was missing. There were a lot of letters between K and P, but none of them looked like elemeno.
Going back to my grandmother’s statement. I just walked into the kitchen, not Lake Street. I had no fucking clue as to what the game of pinochle was. But that didn’t matter! May grandmother was in the kitchen, not on Lake Street. And she was clearly not playing anything!
Maybe she said it because it left me dumbfounded and I would walk away wondering, what the hell she was talking about. Where is Lake Street? What is Pinochle? Why isn’t there an elemeno on the alphabet line at the school?
That is just one example of statements adults made that drove me crazy! I had to find the answer!
In my twenties, I would use the phrase, “More fun than a barrel of monkeys!” Without giving it much thought.
These days though, if someone asked how things were going and the old cliché would rise to the forefront of my mind, I would respond. “More fun than a barrel of monkeys.” But ad, “Whatever that means.” Because I had no idea where the expression came from. I also thought the game “Barrel of Monkeys” was lame!
As a we young lad, I was familiar with the game. “Barrel of Monkeys”. My cousin had it, and loved to play. She had all the games of the day, while I had none of them. She felt sorry for herself claiming her childhood sucked. I went through life as though all was good.
But that is for a different blog.
Because of that game, I didn’t question the idiom through most of my life…until now.
First off, that game sucked! It was stupid and boring. We may not have had video games, but the dozens of other board games and childhood entertainment was much more fun. But the fact that it existed kept my mind quiet for many years.
Well the more I said it; the more it bothered me as to where the idiom came from. Surprisingly, a Google search did not bring Wikipedia up as the first results. Instead, it was a site called Historically Speaking.
It was not the only site I used as my source, but it was the first, and it said what all others said.
The silly game is based on that old expression!
The expression showed up in print as far back as 1895. It was a Chicago Daily Tribune piece about the Republican convention in New York. I guess it proves media bias as far back as 1895…just saying.
The first use of the expression and the game prove one thing. A barrel of monkeys would ultimately be boring…and gross.