Monday 13 December 2010

Capuchin Cappuccinos and Libidinous Monkey-Monks

To some is revealed the secret truth, to others is revealed the utterly obvious. I am in the latter camp. Somehow I managed to get through three decades of life without noticing that cappuccinos - those caffeinated concoctions covered with froth and chocolate - must have something to do with Capuchin monks.

They do. That light, creamy brown of a well-stirred cappuccino is the same as the light creamy brown of a well-hooded Capuchin's. Hence the name of the coffee.

Capuchin itself is merely the diminutive of the Italian capuccio, which means hood. The Capuchins originally wore hoods to hide from the Pope; and by the time the Pope got bored and stopped searching for them, the monks had grown too attached to their little hoods to let them go. It had become, so to speak, a habit.

Monks used to be the butt and target of medieval satire. People would write poems about them. You get some idea of their reputation from the fact that the first definite record of the word fuck comes from a fourteenth century poem about East-Anglian monks.

Non sunt in celi
quia fuccant uuiuys of heli

Which is a Latin-English mish-mash meaning:

They are not in heaven
Who fuck the wives of Ely

Monks also wore brown and black. They were therefore sometimes compared to apes. And that is probably* where we get the word monkey. So what do you call a monkey that looks like it's wearing a hood?

That's right, dear reader, that's right. You call him a capuchin monkey.

P.S. Incidentally, the idea for this post came to me when I was wandering around the Capuchin crypt in Rome, which is decorated entirely with the bones of dead monks [see picture]. It is without doubt the most screwed-up place I have ever been to, with the possible exception of Stranraer.

*The OED says this is the most likely derivation.


  1. Over the weekend, my younger son asked me where the word "monkey" came from, because being nothing like turkeys to his six year-old mind, the two things have no business being spelt similarly. At that very time I was reading your previous piece about using a UK library card to access the complete OED online, which I duly did.

    Chance, then, gave me a trailer for your post today. If you could harness this random power, what an extraordinary differentiating edge your blog would have.

  2. I always wondered what fate was doing for me. Now I know.