Nature 444, 680 (7 December 2006) | doi:10.1038/444680d; Published online 6 December 2006

How the word 'hominid' evolved to include hominin

Simon Underdown1

  1. Department of Anthropology and Geography, Oxford Brookes University, Gipsy Lane Campus, Headington, Oxford OX3 0BP, UK


Human evolution has long been a subject that can claim a love of tongue-twisting terminology, which if not properly explained can lead to much confusion. The latest example is the reassessment of the linnaean description of the relationship between Homo sapiens and the other great apes. To better describe the close evolutionary relationship between them, a new sub-family level has been created. The family group 'hominid' now contains all of the African apes, not just the species of the human lineage; and the newly created sub-family name 'hominin' (with associated sub-families for Pan and Gorilla) contains all the species of the human evolutionary lineage. The term hominin is now used where hominid was previously, causing much confusion, especially among students and nonspecialists.

Publications have a key role in ensuring that this change and the reasons for it are as clear as possible. Yet journals, including Nature, continue to publish papers and features that use the terms hominin and hominid interchangeably. If all in our discipline could agree to the new terminology, journals could ensure that it is used correctly, bringing a small amount of clarity to a subject that so often presents problems of interpretation for the nonspecialist but fascinated public audience.

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