Reader question: In this headline – Keane's Monkey's Off His Back, Says Benitez (AFP, November 8, 2008) – what does "monkey" mean?
My comments: First, little background to the Keane story.
Keane (full name Roy Keane) is a Liverpool (a top English football club) striker. He's Irish. Benitez is the Liverpool coach. He's from Spain. "Monkey off his back" is an idiom, and it is American.
Hence the confusion, alright? (^-^).
Seriously, let me clarify. Last Saturday in a Premier League match against West Brom, Keane scored two goals in a 3-0 victory. It was Keane's first and second goals for Liverpool in a league match this season, after his transfer from Tottenham in the summer. In other words, it's been a long time coming, hence "monkey" business.
On soccernet.com, I found the exact Benitez quote (Keane sends Reds top, ESPNsoccernet.com, November 8, 2008):
"I have had no doubts that he would start to score regularly for us. Robbie has told me he has got a monkey off his back, not an expression I had heard before but I understand what he meant. "Robbie has game intelligence and he is always a threat to defenders. It was only a matter of time before he scored in the league."
What Benitez said, in a nutshell is now that Keane's scored his first, he'll feel free to score more.
Free from the burden of the "monkey", of course.
The "monkey on the back" is a figurative American-speak referring to any problem that's been bothering people, especially a nagging problem that has been there for a long time. Come to think of it, unless you're climbing trees like a monkey yourself, having a monkey on your back is bound to be an unwelcome distraction – to whatever task you're trying to accomplish.
This, however, is my invention just to help you remember the term. Originally, the "monkey" is believed to have referred to drug addiction – monkey was sometimes called "the white monkey" pointing to the white color of cocaine. To get the monkey off one's back, therefore, means to be able to finally kick the bad habit.
Nowadays, the expression is widely applied by people everywhere to any burden they feel they have freed themselves from, especially a mental burden.
In Chinese – I hope bringing in the Chinese language won't further complicate the matter – we have many similar expressions. Those that come uppermost in mind include: 去了一块心病、一块石头落了地、如释重负。
Don't forget, though, the term is primarily an American expression. Just this past week, I've found two sightings of the expression from reports on NBA basketball, a game that I follow on a daily basis.
Here they are: 1. For the second straight season, Baron Davis' team lost its first six games before getting that elusive first victory.
Last season, Davis was with the Golden State Warriors. Now he's with the Los Angeles Clippers, whom the Warriors beat a year ago to end their drought.
"It's pretty much the same feeling—a feeling of frustration," Davis said Sunday, after getting 22 points and 10 assists in the Clippers' 103-92 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. "We let a couple of games get away that we had control of. But once you get that first one, it just takes the monkey of (sic) your back and you realize that you know how to win." - Clippers get first win, beating Mavericks 103-92, AP, November 9, 2008.
2. For a veteran like Allen Iverson, a win in November against a lottery team rarely registers as important. After losing his first two games with his new team, that wasn't the case with this victory.
Iverson had 30 points, nine assists and provided a spark for Detroit after a slow start, winning his first game since joining the Pistons, 100-92 over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night.
"It was a huge lift off of me," Iverson said. "I knew it would happen. You think every game you go out and play it's going to happen. It feels good. I wanted toget the monkey off my back. I'm just excited that I got my first win and I can now try to get a lot more."
- Iverson beats Kings for first win with Pistons, AP, November 11, 2008.