I recently met a guy who disclosed to me that his personal motto is “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” Despite this expression having been popular for a number of years—it’s all over the Internet—I did not remember hearing it before. But I instantly took to it. What lovely imagery. And what lovely meaning: so metaphorical, yet so obvious.
At least I thought its meaning was obvious. To confirm my suspicions, I consulted the good old Web.
Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys Meaning
Confirmed. The meaning of “Not my circus, not my monkeys” is this: One is not responsible for someone else’s sticky situation. The expression does not mean that one is callus or immoral. It means that one has boundaries, boundaries that may well be healthy.
In fact, this Psychology Today article notes that setting “Not my circus, not my monkeys” boundaries can help if you are prone to depression.
(Though saying “Not my circus, not my monkeys” to someone who is embroiled in a sticky situation can come off as flip, and is not advisable unless that person is pretty much guaranteed to love you anyway because you are, say, their teenage kid.)
Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys Origin
I was wrong about something though. I had assumed that the saying “Not my circus, not my monkeys” was from a movie or TV show. (Most sayings that I’m not familiar with turn out to be from such media, since my nose is usually stuck in printed word media, as opposed to motion picture media.)
Au contraire. This is a Polish expression, Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy, which translates literally to “Not my circus, not my monkey.”
In the original Polish, there is one lone mischievous monkey, instead of a plural number of monkeys. Otherwise, the Polish saying has the same words and meaning as the English adaptation.
NOTE ADDED APRIL 8, 2021: A Polish speaker left a comment (see below) saying that the Polish expression is plural, after all. I stand corrected. (Thank you for telling me about this, Marta!) If you speak Polish, it would be wonderful if you would add a comment below and confirm the meaning of the expression, and also share whether you have heard this expression used in Polish and whether it is used in the same way as it is in English. I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on this! 🙂
Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys as a Personal Motto
I circled back (around the three rings?) to the fellow with the personal motto. I told him about my forays into the depths of the Internet and asked where he first heard the expression.
That was when I learned that he did not know the origin of the saying, and I explained it to him (thus narrowly avoiding a womansplaining situation . . .).
He told me he heard the expression while working at a job in which he interacted with people in the military. He said it’s a commonly used saying in military circles. (Rings?)
Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys as an Election Elixir
I’m sitting here on Tuesday (that’s yesterday to you) wondering what’s going to go down in the next 24 hours. Civil unrest? Rioting? Guns? Rapid-fire lawyering? Surely hanging chads are a thing of the past, but maybe not?
In times of uncertainty, “Not my circus, not my monkeys” seems like the wisest possible motto. This year has been so relentlessly uncertain that I have to admire the fellow for adopting a motto so perfectly suited to modern times.
Today, Tuesday, I am thinking, Okay, I voted. I did my part. I can do no more. When I had an unfilled-out ballot in hand, sure—that was my circus. Those were my monkeys. But now that my ballot has been submitted and counted, it’s no longer my circus. The monkeys are playing out there, but their antics are not my responsibility. So the wisest course is to calmly go about my day. It’s a beautiful day. I should endeavor to live it beautifully.
Now it’s Wednesday morning (that’s today to you), and I am closely monitoring the news. This is my country. I love my country. I care deeply about the outcome of this election. But I’m not a candidate. I don’t work for a candidate. I’m not a journalist covering this election. I’m not a person tasked with tabulating votes. I’m just a blogger with a mild head injury and a love of cute monkeys and colorful turns of phrase.
I will continue to follow the news. I will take action, if there is a prudent action to be taken. But there is not any prudent action that I can take right now.
This election is not my circus, not my monkeys.
My Circus, My Monkeys
Folks, this blog post has been barrels of fun!
But surely we’re all hungry for breakfast, after that long night.