"The monkeys shall do bugger all."

1 minute read

Martin Robbins goes ape:

Other writers are preoccupied with trivia like the NHS reforms or education funding, but a great crime against pedantry is in progress and it's time for someone to draw a line. Like many of today's problems, this one is epitomized by a Daily Mail headline:
"Fans go bananas for new Planet Of The Apes trailer which takes humanised monkey effects to a whole new level."
Really? Really? Only actually, as 'humanised monkeys' go they look a bit rubbish to me, because they don't really look like monkeys at all, they look more like apes, what with the film being 'Planet of the Apes' and all.

He’s got a whole lot of similar examples. There are no end of British papers making stupid comments about monkeys.

Still, if we’re going to be pedantic, I’ve got to disagree with Robbins’ placement of Brian Blessed in the apes:

Humans are members of the ape family, distinguished by weediness, lack of hair, technological development and widespread ironic denial of their ape heritage.

Humans are not apes.

I’m not in denial about our ape heritage, and I know some people will argue with me. The most recent common ancestor of living apes is also a human ancestor. “Ape” as applied to chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans and siamangs, is not a monophyletic group. You have to include humans to make biological sense out of the apes.

But by that argument, apes are monkeys. Because the living monkeys – New World and Old – do not have a common ancestor that living apes and humans do not also have.

Ah. The perils of pedantry.

I resolve this problem by recognizing that neither “ape” nor “monkey” is a taxonomic term. We have good terms for the monophyletic groups – “hominoids” are apes + humans, “anthropoids” are apes + humans + monkeys. We can recognize that apes are not monkeys (because they aren’t), and we can recognize in the same way that humans are not apes (because we aren’t).