Me: How’d you hear about this?
SD: I think I heard about it on, um, I believe it was an Instagram post that was a screenshot of a Tumblr post, probably about 2016, maybe.
Me: What does it mean?
SD: So the phrase is not my circus not my monkey, I believe it’s an English translation from a Polish saying. It basically means it’s not my problem.
Me: What do you think the circus and monkey mean?
SD: I like to think that it’s like a literal circus, you know, like a travelling circus, uh, and there was like a loose monkey somewhere and someone saw this loose monkey and they were like well, you know, it’s probably from the travelling circus, but like it’s not my circus, it’s not my monkey.
Background: The informant, SD, was born in the US in the Bay Area. Her parents are also from the US. The informant does not speak the language, but informed me that this proverb is from Poland. She uses it a lot and uses it instead of saying not my problem, she thinks it’s just fun and likes to confuse other people when she says it.
Context: This piece was collected during an in person conversation.
Thoughts: I’ve heard multiple other people use this phrase in the past couple years. When I looked it up after I heard it the first time, it came up always as “Not my circus, not my monkeys” but I’ve only ever heard it with monkey singular. That’s just an interesting variation that I don’t feel changes the meaning much. Her getting it from online shows the easily shareable quality, especially with something quippy and short like a proverb. Phrases pass into speech from various online sites and it has become a saying understood in vernacular.