Where does come from?
Three Wise Monkeys illustrated the idea of protecting one’s self from unsavory or challenging behavior, thought, or language. The saying embraces a Buddhist tenet of not dwelling on evil thoughts, though in Western cultures, the adage is colored with the idea of pretending to be ignorant or choosing to look the other way, and it implies some question of character.
Monkeys are important in the Shinto religion, and the adage was represented with three monkeys in the carving: Wise monkey Mizaru, covers his eyes, and sees no evil; Kikazaru covers his ears, and hears no evil; and Iwazaru covers his mouth, and speaks no evil.
Early Chinese Confucian philosophy certainly played a role in the birth of the adage, as a Confucian phrase from the third or fourth century B.C. reads, “Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety.”
Early Buddhist and Hindu versions of the idea varied, and in some illustrations there was a fourth monkey that referred to that last principle in the Confucian expression. The monkey, Shizaru, symbolized “do no evil,” and was shown either crossing his arms or covering his genitals. The Hindu interpretation of the fourth monkey was more along the lines of “don’t flaunt your happiness” than “don’t do evil things.”
The see-no-evil Mizaru emoji— like its cohorts, Kikazaru and Iwazaru—was approved as part of Unicode 6.0 in 2010 and added to Emoji 1.0 in 2015. And, like its cohorts, the emoji is often used in lighthearted ways, and certainly not with the serious thought its creators intended.
But, hey, that’s what happens when a couple of thousands of years pass. If the core concepts of the maxim remain, well, that’s pretty impressive, right?
Who uses ?
People use the see-no-evil monkey emoji and its counterparts in a variety of ways, and as noted above, they’re seldom used with the original meaning with which the saying was created for.
All three wise monkey emoji enjoy popularity because monkeys are cute, and the covering of one’s ears or mouth has a way of conveying a feeling with few words: embarrassment, surprise, self-deprecation, questioning, and “la la la, I can’t hear you!” to name a few.
For example, although the three wise monkeys in unified pose don’t seem quite adequate for the inspirational thought expressed here, we think we get the real idea at play here. Poor little chimp, the butt of the joke: the three monkeys together convey a sense of “Do you even see this? I can’t believe what I’m seeing/hearing, and I’m covering my mouth so I don’t laugh too loud!”
— Linda Freeman (@lindafreeman_) September 4, 2018
When used for sheer cuteness, the wisdom of the ages goes right out the window:
two seconds of cuteness for you🙊🙈 pic.twitter.com/wz2EaIEjj5
— a l i 🦕 (@aliciaaaalopez) September 6, 2018
Sometimes the monkeys are clearly used incorrectly, as in this post where the idea might have been hands slapping the side the of the face in surprise and joy—but that’s not what Kikazaru is all about!
They nailed this first try! 🙉☝️ pic.twitter.com/o45Pp5uoXO
— Whistle Sports (@WhistleSports) September 6, 2018
And, Kikazaru is clearly being employed here in a way he didn’t intend:
I wanna hide in his dimples 🙉
— YOONGI’S SMILE💜 (@ashmcd325) September 7, 2018
The use of two of the monkeys here helps this poster say, “I’m a bit embarrassed so I’m covering my eyes/face, and I’ll cover my mouth for good measure” (or, “I can’t believe I said/do this!”).
Am I the only one who drinks canned drinks out of a straw?! Lol my fambam keeps saying I’m weird for it🙊🙈 pic.twitter.com/bsAkcErrvl
— Syd🌼— REP TOUR INDY❤️ (@matsel_24) September 7, 2018
And here, Corrina is clearly very embarrassed. We get it!
Yes!!! 😂🙊🙈🙉 I'm embarrassed! 🤣
— Corrina (@CorrinaTweets) September 7, 2018
It’s difficult to find posts where the Three Wise Monkeys are actually doing the job they were hired to do. This post comes close—the Buddhist intent works: All three wise monkeys are lined up to banish evil thoughts.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles 🙊🙈🙉 pic.twitter.com/TEEqU2MhLR
— Gilberto Trombetta (@Gitro77) August 21, 2018
And, we come back to simply … monkeys. Because, monkeys!