P1. Chiefly Brit., Irish English, Austral., and N.Z.
Proverbial phrase. softly, softly, catchee monkey
and variants: advocating caution or guile as the best way to achieve an end.The proverb apparently originates in West Africa; quot. 1832
records its use in Demerara (now part of Guyana). [Compare e.g. Cameroon Pidgin English sofli, sofli, kas monki
and Mende klo, klo, mia kua hu
, lit. ‘slowly, slowly is monkey meat’.]
1832 A. Henderson Sc. Prov. Pref. p. lvii, Safly, safly, catch monkey, ye hiri. They must go softly that catch a monkey, ye hear!
1840 A. Polson Law & Lawyers I. i. 22 ‘Prudens qui patiens’, was the motto of our great Coke:..which the negro pithily paraphrases—‘Softly, softly, catch monkey’.
1865 R. F. Burton Wit & Wisdom from W. Afr. Pref. p. xiii, I should rather explain this by our kindred expression, ‘introduce the sharp edge of the wedge first’; or, as the West Africans say, ‘Softly! Softly caught the monkey.’
1896 R. S. S. Baden-Powell Downfall Prempeh Author's Apol. 13 A smile and a stick will carry you through any difficulty in the world, more especially if you act upon the old West Coast motto, ‘Softly, softly, catchee monkey’.
1942 N. Balchin Darkness falls from Air x. 176 Softly catch monkey... That's the answer.
1962 P. Brickhill Deadline xiii. 152, I didn't pursue it any further then. Softly, softly, catchee monkey—and I hated that phrase.
2002 R. Gervais & S. Merchant Office Ser. 1. Episode 2. 83, I am trained in covert operations. You know the phrase ‘Softly softly catchy monkey?’