Biological Linguistics:
The Difference Between Chimps and Monkeys

Chimpanzees and Monkeys

Non-scientists often make mistakes when talking about science. This is understandable. I’m sure I make mistakes when I talk about politics! But there is one mistake, one seemingly inconsequential error, that I find completely intolerable. The error I am referring to is the routine use of ‘ape’ ‘chimpanzee’ and ‘monkey’ as interchangeable terms for the same entity.

The word chimpanzee refers exclusively to members of a single genus; Pan. This genus contains two species; the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) – what most people think of when they imagine a chimpanzee, and which have been famously humanised in television shows for decades – and the bonobo chimpanzee (Pan paniscus) which is found only in the Demoncratic Republic of Congo.

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