Monday, 1 July 2013

Bimanous


Bimanous, Two hands, Palms,
Humans are bimanous - this is picture proof.
Photo by Celia Chamizo

BIMANOUS

Adjective. Mid-19th century.
[from modern Latin bimana neuter plural, two-handed animals (in Cuvier's obsolete classification)., from Latin BI- + manus hand, + -OUS.]

Having two hands.

Also: bimanal adjective M19

Bimanous - a really stupid word that's often pronounced really stupidly; I must admit that this was my initial reaction when I read it in the OED. After all, what animal has more (or less) than two hands? It's two hands or none, isn't it? If that's right, would manous not suffice to distinguish between handed and unhanded animals?

Well, as is often the case, I was being rather obtuse because bimanous was originally used when animals such as primates were being classified. As anyone that's ever seen a chimpanzee knows, the distinction between a chimp's hand and foot is considerably less clear than the distinction on a human. Is it bimanous, like humans, or does it in fact have four hands?

Even the definition of a hand is somewhat blurred: humans, chimps and gorillas have hands with which to interact with the world, but what about other animals? A lemur? A panda? A tyrannosaurus rex? If on any you answered "No, they have paws," or "No, they have talons," where is the line of distinction drawn? These were the types of questions facing those doing the work of classification.

So I was wrong - bimanous isn't a stupid word; in fact it's quite interesting. What's also really interesting is that recent research suggests 1/13 humans have super-bendy feet just like chimps. I don't, sadly, and I've damn well been trying, but alas, my rigid human feet refuse to yield and stay rigidly straight, no matter how much I try to bend them (this might explain why I've always been so rubbish at climbing).

 If you're one of the 1/13 and want to boast, or have anything else to add, do please leave a comment in the box below.

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