missing link

noun
1.
a hypothetical form of animal assumed to have constituted a connecting link between the anthropoid apes and humans, identified by some authorities as constituting the genus Australopithecus.
2.
something lacking for the completion of a series or sequence.

Origin:
1850–55

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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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Collins
World English Dictionary
missing link
 
n
1.  (sometimes capitals) the missing link a hypothetical extinct animal or animal group, formerly thought to be intermediate between the anthropoid apes and man
2.  any missing section or part in an otherwise complete series

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary

missing link definition


A supposed animal midway in evolution between apes and humans. The term is based on a misunderstanding about the theory of evolution, which does not state that humans are descended from apes, but rather maintains that both humans and apes descended from a common ancestor. Modern evolutionary scientists do not search for a “missing link.”

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Encyclopedia Britannica
Encyclopedia

missing link

hypothetical extinct creature halfway in the evolutionary line between modern human beings and their anthropoid progenitors. In the latter half of the 19th century, a common misinterpretation of Charles Darwin's work was that humans were lineally descended from existing species of apes. To accept this theory and reconcile it with the hierarchical Great Chain of Being, some fossil ape-man or man-ape seemed necessary in order to complete the chain. Today it is recognized that the relationship of modern humans to the present anthropoid apes (e.g., chimpanzees) is through common ancestors rather than through direct descent. These ancestors have yet to be identified, but ape-hominid divergence may have occurred 6 to 10 million years ago.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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Example sentences
He predicted not a single missing link, but countless millions of them,
  everywhere.
It may well be the missing link to human excellence that the brain was
  especially made for.
And the missing link wasn't some advanced compound, but packaging.
What's more, your dead end may be another scientist's missing link, the elusive
  chunk of data they needed.
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