An American teacher keeps calling one of his Japanese students "monkey boy" , which makes the student's mother very uncomfotable because it sounds derogatory to her. What kind of students do teachers usually call "monkey boy?"

  • Is that the exact phrase? Jun 23, 2014 at 9:41
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    The student's mother could very well have it exactly right: a male pupil may be termed "monkey boy" as belonging (in the teacher's view) to a less evolved race. If this expression were to be applied to a non-white pupil by a white teacher in an American public school, there would most likely be hell to pay. Jun 23, 2014 at 10:08
  • Particularly active or dexterous children. The term describes behavior. Jun 23, 2014 at 13:20
  • There's extended discussion of the usage here on MumsNet, but the bottom line is as was pointed out in a slightly different context on SE.meta - You do not get to tell anyone else what offends them, not here, not on the main sites, and not in chat. Ever. If the mother was uncomfortable, the teacher was at best insensitive. Anything more than that is just subjective opinions and excuses. Jun 23, 2014 at 15:07
  • "You do not get to tell anyone else what offends them..." I'm a proponent of the flip side: no one can offend you without your permission. Some people are just 'umbrage kleptomaniacs'.
    – Jim Mack
    Jun 23, 2014 at 17:23

3 Answers 3


The usage may be based on the idiom: Monkey business

If children get up to monkey business, they are behaving naughtily or mischievously. This is the same as 'monkeying around'.

It possibly could be a reference to a child who is easily pulled into nonsense, as in 'Monkey see, monkey do'. Either way, I have called kids little monkeys, and it was a term of endearment for the kids I really liked!


"A monkey boy" means "a boy who is like a monkey". That's all there is to it — "monkey boy" isn't an idiom or anything.

There are any number of ways in which a boy could be like a monkey — perhaps he enjoys jumping around, or maybe he likes eating bananas, or perhaps he makes vocalizations that sound simian. Or, heck, if this is happening in Japan, perhaps he doesn't get along with dogs, as the Japanese saying goes.


When talking to children, calling someone a monkey is normally affectionate.

Definition 1.2 relates to a mischevious child. So it could be used as an admonishment. However this meaning is often used with playful affection when a child is being cheeky.

"Monkey boy" on the other hand would imply to me that the child is very active and boisterous. It's not an idiom I am aware of. I don't think it's exactly an insult, but it could indicate that the teacher finds the child difficult to control at times.

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    I don't think calling a child a [little] monkey is exactly "affectionate" in most cases. It usually indicates exasperation with unruly behaviour, and unless the speaker is a close relative/friend (in which category I would not include a teacher who it seems doesn't really even know the mother), it's more "pejorative" than "indulgent". The teacher is a crass ignoramus in this case, since he apparently doesn't understand (or doesn't care) how his thoughtless label may be understood by others. Jun 23, 2014 at 12:17
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    Whenever I've heard it it's been affectionate, so I'll have to disagree. Jun 23, 2014 at 12:23
  • Well, it made the Huffington Post - White Brooklyn Teacher Calls Black Student 'Monkey,' Says Student's Mother - and I don't see anyone there saying the teacher was just being affectionate. People use all sorts of offensive terms in the domestic environment that are wildly inappropriate in a more professional context (particularly when there are racial differences and language barriers involved). Jun 23, 2014 at 12:38
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    How can you confidently assert "this isn't about race"? OP refers to a student, which strongly suggests an older child, not an infant. There's also good reason to suppose the student himself doesn't appreciate the possible range of nuances involved (and has reported the situation to his mother, rather than it being a term the teacher used when speaking "intimately" with the mother). I don't say the teacher is necessarily an overt racist, but to my mind he's obviously incompetent in terms of "customer relations"). Jun 23, 2014 at 12:56
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    I can confidently assert "this isn't about race" because most people don't participate in the "who can have the thinnest skin" contest and don't have time to waste looking for Klansmen under every bed. In the absence of any other information, I'm going to go with the term "monkey boy" as being a term of playful endearment. It is often used that way in the US, particularly in the SE US, where it is used to describe a particularly dextrous or active child. A student can be any person of any age who goes to school. Jun 23, 2014 at 13:17

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