SIMIAN [SIM-ee-uhn] : referring to apes or monkeys

A recent newspaper article described a person’s simian-like gesture.  Not to be left totally in the dark, I began my research and discovered that simian is a term which means “monkey or ape-like.”   I’m not sure now whether the author of the article was being complimentary or not, and I can’t exactly remember where I read it.

It did make me think, however, of my frequently-articulated point that using a really, really obscure word in a newspaper article is either an attempt to be pretentious or a scholarly effort imposed upon a more generic audience.  It’s fun to be introduced to new words, but sometimes it’s also distracting from the point of the article.  As in this case, where I can’t even remember what the article was about.  I am glad to enter the word simian into my vocabulary, however, and will probably end up using it in something I write.

The research I did  took me vicariously to one of my favorite places in the world, the Island of Gibraltar.   We visited there (by mistake) several years ago and consider it one of the serendipities of our life.   Our cruise ship became disabled on its way around the tip of southern Europe and we were forced to put into the port of Gibraltar.   We were there for just a day, but on that day we discovered one of the hidden gems of Europe.   It is a beautiful, little place with hospitable people, a couple of good restaurants, a hotel we hope to return to one of these days, and a fascinating history.

As we walked along the streets of the city, however, we discovered the Barbary Apes, a mis-named troop of monkeys living freely amongst the residents of the island.   They are mischievous, sometimes rude, and very, very hungry for such things as candy bars which they will filch out of the most secure pocket with all the skill of a Times Square pickpocket.  Visitors are cautioned not to attempt to touch them, as they can be aggressive and potentially dangerous.  But for the most part, they are street entertainers, performing for food.   We saw them steal handbags and hats, which they will then don and dance with before abandoning them.  It was fun for the day we were there.  I suspect they can become tiresome after a while.

In any case, they are my most visual reminders of the word simian, even beyond the varieties of monkeys and apes that lived in the zoo where my wife worked at one time.  There were no bars between us on the streets of Gibraltar.

Another use of the word simian is related to its connection to the monkeys and apes.   Some humans have a crease across their palm similar to that found in most monkeys.  It is called a Simian Crease.  

The Simian Crease crosses the palm without the usual break in it found on most human hands.   It means nothing.  It is simply a characteristic.   It is not uncommon in persons born with Down’s Syndrome and other uncommon physical characteristics.  The term has come to carry a pejorative quality to it, so it is less frequently used these days.

All in all, the term simian can be said to be obscure, interesting, and worth adding to one’s vocabulary.   Its use in a newspaper article, however, is unlikely to be recognized by most readers without some research.


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