SHAW THING: Who was the monkey’s uncle?

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“Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!”

It struck me this week that we, as a society, have some of the strangest sayings and anecdotes.

Why, for example, are the bee’s knees inherently cool?

Who is Larry and why is he happy?

Why are donkey’s years so much longer than regular years?

Why do flies with blue bottoms run around so frantically?

A lot of these sort of things stem from old legends and changes in language. Britain was invaded so often that our language has a very unique quality in that it absorbs new languages rather than being destroyed by them.

This is why so many of our words are French or of French origin, after all we were ruled by the Normans for a number of years, and French became the language of the ruling classes.

Some people believe that “the bee’s knees” refer to the pollen that bees collect on their legs, however there is no real evidence to explain where this odd phrasing came from.

“As happy as Larry” first appeared in print in 1875 from the New Zealand writer G. L Meredith. It appeared as, “We would be as happy as Larry if it were not for the rats”.

Etymologists suggest that the Larry in question referred to 19th century Australian boxer Larry Foley (1847 - 1917).

Foley was a successful pugilist who never lost a fight and retired aged 32 after collecting a purse of £1,000 for his final fight. So in that case, Larry was very very happy!

Donkey’s years may have originated as donkey’s ears, but now refers to the fact that donkeys can live for a pretty long time compared to other animals of the same family.

In fact, there was once a donkey who worked in Blackpool who lived to the age of 62!

English is such a fascinating language and I will never tire of talking about it, or writing in it, or being part of the mass of people constantly contributing to it.

If you have anything to add, feel free to email me, Danielle Shaw, at