It’s not a MONKEY!!!!


I can’t stand it when people tell me about their pet peeves. It drives me up a wall!

Dodge and PETA recently locked horns over a television ad for a Dodge sales event that featured a young chimpanzee. You can learn more about the issue here. In the link, Dodge is applauded for dealing with PETA’s objection to using chimps in advertising in a wry and effective way. When I viewed the ad, however, I just ended up distracted and frustrated. My issue is a bit pedantic, but what good is a blog if you can’t use it to rant about intellectual laziness? CHIMPS AREN’T MONKEYS!


Young chimpanzee. NOT a monkey.

Why does it bug me so much when people refer to chimpanzees as monkeys? I don’t know. I guess it’s because it’s wrong. When you see something that’s clearly wrong, doesn’t that bother you?

Let’s say your friend pulls up in his Camaro and asks if you’d like to go for a ride in his pick-up truck. Would that make you hesitate and question why he called it a pick-up? Maybe Jay-Z is on the radio and your friend says, “Ooh I love this new Ludacris song.” Do you correct her? Suppose you order a beer and the bartender says “Here’s your whiskey” while he hands you the beer bottle. Wouldn’t you wonder what the heck was wrong with him?
Not a pick-up truck.


Ludacris and Miley Cyrus sharing a beer at a hockey game.

I think you would. That’s why I’m not merely being pedantic when I complain that someone has referred to an ape as a monkey. They’re different. They’re not the same. Many people know this too. Every doctor, nurse, dentist, science teacher, physical therapist, game warden, biologist, etc. out there at one point must have taken some kind of biology class that included learning about the classification of vertebrate animals. You know, “Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species”? We no longer classify species by these exact categories, but the big changes have come at the level of Kingdoms so the relevant classification of the Vertebrates – a subphylum within the Phylum “Chordata” – is pretty close to how we learned it.

So monkeys and apes are different. Yes, both groups belong to the Order Primates, but they actually reside in different Families. In fact, they’re even more different than Families, as “New World monkeys,” “Old World monkeys,” and “apes” are assigned to different Infraorders – with apes in a separate Superfamily.


Langur mother and young. Right, proper monkeys.

Okay, maybe I’ve now lost all but the most diligent of the biology geeks so an example can provide perspective. Cats and dogs both belong to different Families (in different Suborders) within the Order Carnivora. Thus referring to an ape as a monkey is akin to referring to a dog as a cat. It’s just wrong.


Awww. Kittens are just adorable!

Which brings up another phenomenon. You never hear of someone referring to a monkey as an ape, only an ape as a monkey. So maybe the dictionaries are at fault for sloppy definitions that don’t follow the biological standard. Sure enough, it’s right there in the Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary:

“1: a nonhuman primate mammal with the exception usually of the lemurs and tarsiers; especially : any of the smaller longer-tailed catarrhine or platyrrhine primates as contrasted with the apes”

Arrggh. So it’s technically not a problem in terms of English language word usage to refer to an ape as a monkey, though I’d eat my hat if even 1 in 100 of the “ape as monkey” offenders out there had taken the time to look it up to decide if it was okay to use monkey to refer to an ape. Anyone who had invested that effort would surely have come across the more appropriate biological distinction and simply called their chimp an ape, which it is.

C’mon America. Let’s raise the bar a bit and start calling chimps chimps and monkeys monkeys.

Also, check this out.

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This entry was posted in animal behavior, editorial, environment, evolution, history, life, Links, monkey, platypus, skepticism and science, wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to It’s not a MONKEY!!!!

  1. A. Schwarzenegger says:

    ITS NOT A TUMA!!!

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  2. PaoloV says:

    Actually, with the change from traditional Linnean taxonomy which allows paraphyletic groups to systematic taxonomy which only recognises monophyletic clade based groups, chimpanzees (and all apes including humans) ARE monkeys.

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  3. Pingback: Tired of monkeying around « Zygoma

  4. Thanks Paolo, but if we’re all monkeys via cladistics, then we’re all also insectivores, mammals, vertebrates, chordates, etc. It’s still arbitrary where we choose to draw the lines. I’ll bow to any use of “monkey” for “ape” were someone making a cladistic argument, but what I’m talking about is overusage of “monkey” by the intellectually lazy.

    You’ll make no monkey out of me!

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  5. I love, love, love this post! I think I probably drive my friends and family crazy about this topic. It is so annoying to me, and it happens all the time. There are so many commercials out there that refer to chimps as monkeys. I, however, am doing my best to educate as many people as I can and always point out to all those in shouting distance when I see a chimp, gorilla or orangutan being called a monkey.

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  6. m.bullard says:

    There have been so many times when i have been to the zoo and see some ignorant parent with their child pointing at a gorilla and say Look son can you see that great big monkey over there

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    • Yes it’s quite annoying, especially considering that in probably every case there was some kind of signage conspicuously on display that clearly described the differences between apes and monkeys.

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  7. Yes! So irritating! They start with the baby books too!

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