In English, no very clear distinction was originally made between “ape” and “monkey”; thus the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica entry for “ape” notes that it is either a synonym for “monkey” or is used to mean a tailless humanlike primate.Colloquially, the terms “monkey” and “ape” are widely used interchangeably. Also, a few monkey species have the word “ape” in their common name, such as the Barbary ape.
Later in the first half of the 20th century, the idea developed that there were trends in primate evolution and that the living members of the order could be arranged in a series, leading through “monkeys” and “apes” to humans. Monkeys thus constituted a “grade” on the path to humans and were distinguished from “apes”.
Scientific classifications are now more often based on monophyletic groups, that is groups consisting of all the descendants of a common ancestor. The New World monkeys and the Old World monkeys are each monophyletic groups, but their combination was not, since it excluded hominoids (apes and humans). Thus the term “monkey” no longer referred to a recognized scientific taxon. The smallest accepted taxon which contains all the monkeys is the infraorder Simiiformes, or simians. However this also contains the hominoids, so that monkeys are, in terms of currently recognized taxa, non-hominoid simians. Colloquially and pop-culturally, the term is ambiguous and sometimes monkey includes non-human hominoids.In addition, frequent arguments are made for a monophyletic usage of the word “monkey” from the perspective that usage should reflect cladistics.
A group of monkeys may be commonly referred to as a tribe or a troop.
Two separate groups of primates are referred to as “monkeys”: New World monkeys (platyrrhines) from South and Central America and Old World monkeys (catarrhines in the superfamily Cercopithecoidea) from Africa and Asia. Apes (hominoids)—consisting of gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans—are also catarrhines but were classically distinguished from monkeys. (Tailless monkeys may be called “apes”, incorrectly according to modern usage; thus the tailless Barbary macaque is sometimes called the “Barbary ape”.)