Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What "Cutting Monkey Shines" & "Cut A Shine" Mean

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides information & speculations about the meanings of "cutting monkey shines" ("making monkey shines"), "cut a shine" ("cut shine), "cuttin up" and "cut a monkey".

This post is part of a continuing series that presents information and speculation about the meanings of certain words & phrases that are found in American Old Time Music and other music genres.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, and educational purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Definition #1 (verb)
"cutting" monkey shines (later "monkeyshines")
Acting silly (as monkeys are said to do), acting mischievously, making a prank out in public, making a public spectacle of yourself acting like a monkey

Definition #2: (noun)
"prank—usually used in plural

First Known Use of MONKEYSHINE
circa 1832"
This statement probably refers to the Minstrel song "Jump Jim Crow". Information about that song is found below.
Definition #3:
Monkeyshines [noun] mischievous or playful tricks, including jokingly making funny faces or gestures
"TheGrammarphobia Blog"
"Monkeyshine! March 29th, 2007
Q: I’ve been curious about the word “monkeyshines” since I was a child and visited my grandmother, who was born in the early 20th century in a small town in Kansas. As we drove away, she’d make odd gestures and call out “monkeyshines.” I know that the word means acting up, but I wonder where it comes from. Does it have its origins in vaudeville or minstrel shows?

A: The word “monkeyshine” (often “monkeyshines”), referring to a mischievous or playful trick, has a very interesting and disturbing history.

It first appeared in 1828 (as “munky shines”) in a song by Thomas “Daddy” Rice, a popular white comedian who performed in blackface. In the song, called “Jump Jim Crow,” Rice sings and dances as an old plantation slave: “I cut so many munky shines, I dance de gallopade.” (The gallop, or gallopade, was a 19th-century dance.)

The song also gave us the term “Jim Crow” for segregation and other discrimination against African-Americans. But the use of the word “shine” as an abusive term for a black person may have nothing to do with Rice’s song. The usage didn’t appear in print until the early 20th century, well after the song’s heyday, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Your guess that “monkeyshine” comes from minstrel shows was right on target. In fact, some people consider “Daddy” Rice to be the father of minstrelsy.
Italics added to highlight that sentence.

Song Example For "Cut Monkey Shines" - "Jump Jim Crow" [1828]
"Jump Jim Crow" is a song and dance from 1828 that was done in blackface by white comedian Thomas Dartmouth (T.D.) "Daddy" Rice. The first song sheet edition appeared in the early 1830s, published by E. Riley.

...Come, listen, all you girls and boys, I'm just from Tuckahoe;
I'm going to sing a little song, My name's Jim Crow.
Chorus: Wheel about, and turn about, and do just so;
Every time I wheel about, I jump Jim Crow.
I went down to the river, I didn't mean to stay,
But there I saw so many girls, I couldn't get away.
I'm roaring on the fiddle, and down in old Virginia,
They say I play the scientific, like master Paganini,
I cut so many monkey shines, I dance the galoppade;
And when I'm done, I rest my head, on shovel, hoe or spade.
Italics added by me to highlight that line.

My interpretation of the line which includes a reference to the gallop dance is that that dance was just a part of "cutting monkey shines". I don't believe that line means that "cutting monkey shines" always meant doing any dance.
Here's an example of conversational use of the phrase "making monkey shines"
From,58,58 "Othar Turner, Cane Fife Maker" by William Ferris
[Otha Turner describing how he and other musicians attract a crowd for the community picnic he sponsors]
“Then I start the drums to playing and the cane fifes to blowing. We play "Shimmy She Wobble,"8 "My Baby Don't Stand No Cheating On Her."9 "Granny, Will Your Dog Bite?" "Rolling and Tumbling,"10 "Glory Hallelujah,1111 "When the Saints Go Marching In." We play all stuff like that you know. We got a whole lot of different pieces we play. You know, you can sing to the drums, we've sung to them many times and played. It just depends on what you want to do. But now ordinary playing in a picnic, that's just for drawing a crowd. We go out there and. go to playing the drums, sometimes go to hollering and playing and making monkey shine with the drums, just cutting up, you know. That's what will draw your crowd. That's what that's for."
In the context of this conversation, "making monkey shine" means
having fun playing the drums, without any serious intent to perform any particular song, for instance, playing chords before an actual musical performance. The expression "monkeying around with ___" has a similar meaning.
"Monkeying around:
verb - intransitive
to mess around, waste time."
Information about "just cutting up" is found below.

Definition #4
Black people purposely acting a fool in front of, pandering to White folks
From"I heard an African American comic talk about being criticized by members of his race for "cutting monkey shines" in front of white people. Meaning, as I understood it, acting all jolly in a manner that would please the white folks. Acting a fool. Pandering, I guess you could call it."
Read the same definition below for "cutting the monkey".

Definition #5:
noun - the name of a particular type of dance

In "Harlem Shuffle" by Bob & Earl [1966] "Dance Crazes" *
"Bill Black's Combo- "Monkey-Shine" (1963)

Also in "Harlem Shuffle" by the Rolling Stones**

Excerpt for the Rolling Stones song:
Huhuuuhuhuhuhuuuuuuh, hu!
You move it to the left, yeah, and you go for yourself.
You move it to the right, yeah, if it takes all night.
Now take it kinda slow,
with a whole lot of soul.
Don't move it too fast.
Just make it last.
You scratch just like a monkey.
Yeah ya do, real cool...
Yeah, yeah, yeah, do the Harlem Shuffle.
(Do the Monkey Shine)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, shake your tail feather, baby.
(Shake shake, shake shake yeah!)..."

* The R&B dance "The Monkey" probably came from the "Monkey Shine" dance. Visit that page for a list of other Rock & Roll/ R&B records including these songs that promoted the "Monkey" dance "Do The Monkey", "It's Monkey Time" and "Mickey's Monkey".

**Is the Rolling Stones' song a cover of the earlier Bob & Earl record?

Editorial Comment:
I believe that the phrases "cutting a shine" ("cutting shine"), "cutting the monkey" ("cutting a monkey"; "cuttin monkey"), and "cutting up" all come from the phrase "cutting monkey shine" ("cutting monkeyshine").

Music Genres: American Minstrel, American Old Time Music
"cut a shine" - to dance"

"Little Lula/Lulu/Lulie"

Oldtime1 [Joe Wilson], 5/29/97
Little Lula/Lulu/Lulie

Paul asked if there are two Lulu songs. Yes. The "Bang Away Lulu" lyric he quoted is not at all like "Shout Lulu." When I interviewed G. B. Grayson's oldest daughter, Lilly Grayson Sturdivant, in 1972 near Rising Sun, MD (with Ken Irwin and Marian Leighton), she told about his compositions. She said he did not write "Shout Lulu" and that she thought it was "an old song." If it was old when Grayson recorded it in the late 1920s, it may be
from minstrelsy. It certainly has the feel and rhythm of a minstrel song:
"Takes a nickle, takes a dime, To see Little Luly, cut a shine."...*
Italics added to highligh that line.

Click the "Shout Lula" tag found below for several pancocojams post about this Old Time Music song, including a post about the Grayson & Whittier recording of that song.

Music Genre: American Music Hall song

"Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English (1905)
Abridged from the Seven-volume Work, Entitled: Slang and Its Analogues by John Stephen Farmer, William Ernest Henley
to cut a shine, to make a show ; every shine, every one ; as verb, (a) to make a stir, or impression"
I think that this definition of "cut a shine" - to make a positive impression [to shine like the sun] is a positive spin on the older meaning of "cutting a shine" in which the person showed off, making a public spectacle of himself or herself by acting like a monkey.

Song Examples from
[hereafter known as "Mudcat: McGuiness"]
posted by Joe Offer, Date: 30 Apr 10 - 02:28 AM
"Here are the lyrics from the 1880 sheet music at the American Memory Collection (Library of Congress):

(Jim O'Neil & Jack Conroy)

Then cheer up, Missus Reiley, don't give 'way to the blues,
You and I will cut a shine, new bonnets, and new shoes,
As for me, I'm done a-crying, no more will I sigh or sob,
I'll wait till times get better, when McGuiness gets a job.

Copyright 1880 by Mrs. Pauline Lieder"
This song is also known as "Last Winter Was a Hard One"
Italics added by me to highlight that line.

"Mudcat: McGuiness" posted by Joe Offer, Date: 30 Apr 10 - 12:28 AM
"...Here's the Traditional Ballad Index entry on this song:
Last Winter Was a Hard One
DESCRIPTION: Two Irish women lament the hard times. Neither woman's husband could find a job, and both families suffered. They curse the Italians who have arrived to take Irish jobs. They look forward to better times when their husbands find work
AUTHOR: Words: Jim O'Neil / Music: Jack Conroy
EARLIEST DATE: 1880 (sheet music)

Music Genre: British Music Hall song
Lyr Req: I Do Like A S'Nice S'Mince S'Pie, posted by Jim Dixon, 24 Jan 11 - 03:18 PM
"The British Library [London] has the sheet music, described thus:

Written and composed by W. David and B. Lee.

Author: Worton David; Bert Lee
Publisher: London : Star Music Publishing Co, [1914]
Edition/Format: Musical score
My Old Red Vest
I never get the knocker when the boys shout cock, cockly, cock, cock robin
With my old red vest I mean to cut shine.
Walking down the street, they call me danger on the line.
And the more they call out robin red breast, I'll wear it longer still.
I will have a red waistcoat, I will,
I will, I will, I will, I will, I will.
Italics added by me to highlight that line.

CUTTING UP [CUTTIN UP] (Usually given as "just cuttin up")
Definition: verb; acting silly, "actin a fool", (meaning purposely acting like a fool.

Example: Read the excerpt about Othar Turner above.

Definition #1
(verb) acting silly, acting [like] a fool

All them dat's goin' tuh cut de monkey in other words, if everyone has finished acting silly.

[WARNING - This book includes the n word fully spelled out and colorist language about dark skinned Black people.]

Italics were added by me to highlight that portion.

Definition #2
(verb) showing off in front of White people, pandering to White people*

From "Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God (Chap. 16)"
"We’se uh mingled people and all of us got black kinfolks as well as yaller kinfolks. How come you so against black?”

“And dey makes me tired. Always laughin’! Dey laughs too much and dey laughs too loud. Always singin’ ol’ n&&&er songs! Always cuttin’ de monkey for white folks."
Italics were added by me to highlight that portion.

The second paragraph in this excerpt is spoken by a Black women who is sharing why she doesn't like dark skinned Black people.
WARNING: The n word is fully spelled out in this book.

This usage is the same as Definition #4 for "cutting monkey shines"
which is found above.

*I believe that the expression about Black people "cutting the monkey" can be connected to, but isn't necessarily integral to the stereotype of Black people as monkeys. Click for information about that old & still current very negative stereotype.

I'm intrigued by the common usage of the words "cut" and "cuttin" ("cutting") to mean "doing". Examples from Old Time Music are "cuttin monkeyshines" and "cutting a shine" (as well as "cut a shine" from Music Hall songs. "Cut the rug" meaning "to dance" is probably a more familiar, albeit mostly retired example of this use of the word "cut". Here's a comment about that expression:
"The term to "cut a rug" first started to emerge as a slang term for dancing in the 1920s. Use of the phrase persisted well into the 1940s, although the popularity of the term has since faded...

Like most slang, the origins of "cut a rug" as a synonym for dancing are disputed. Several competing theories to explain the idea have been bandied about, but none have been firmly proved. This is often the case with slang, which sometimes seems to catch on overnight..."
It seems likely that this vernacular use of the word "cut" and "cutting" originated with African Americans. And, as the lyrics to "Jump Jim Crow" show, this use of "cut" document, that word was used that way as early as the 1830s. But I don't know why "cuttin" came to be used that way.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

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