Great Apes
December 6, 2004 1:49 PM   Subscribe

A Planet Where Ask.Me Evolved From Mefi?! As many of you know, there are great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutangs, and (according to many) humans) and lesser apes, meaning gibbons.

If almost all of the apes out there are great apes, why on earth do people bother referring to them specifically as great apes? It seems to me that gibbons are the ones that aren't great apes, it would make sense to refer to the great apes as "apes" and gibbons as "lesser apes", or possibly "small apes".
posted by Captain_Tenille to Society & Culture (6 answers total)
There are 9 species of lesser apes.

Also from that page: The lesser apes form the family Hylobatidae which is part of the superfamily of apes (Hominoidea). The term ‘lesser apes’ implies that while gibbons are apes, they did not pursue the same evolutionary line that eventually gave rise to Man, the ‘highest’ primate of them all.

Works for me ...
posted by deshead at 2:15 PM on December 6, 2004

Maybe if you're only talking about the present, but those terms come in very handy when you start talking about evolution, fossils, and extinct species of apes.
posted by jefgodesky at 2:16 PM on December 6, 2004

it's like email and postal (or snail) mail. one of them just needs to be mail. on a personal note, i believe in leaving the original alone.

- $.02 random
posted by folktrash at 5:07 PM on December 6, 2004

You have to admit that orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees are pretty great.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:18 PM on December 6, 2004

Because that would suggest there is something less apey about gibbons, which there isn't. As jefgodesky said, it makes a lot more sense if you think about it as referring not to current ape species, but to the common ancestor of all apes. That's the baseline for what an "ape" is. As such, it denotes the two evolutionary directions taken from that common ancestor, as opposed to relating everything to the current position of humans.

Also, there's no rule that the common names for biological classifications have to make sense. Just ask the Black Rhino and the White Rhino, both of which are grey.
posted by flashboy at 6:31 PM on December 6, 2004

Somebody at some point started saying it and it stuck. Happens a lot with this sort of stuff. The most logical name/label for something doesn't always vie out over whatever is first/most popular.
posted by baphomet at 10:22 PM on December 6, 2004

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