Man (word)
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Man Word

The term man (from Proto-Germanic *mannaz or *manwaz "man, person") and words derived from it can designate any or even all of the human race regardless of their sex or age. In traditional usage, man (without an article) itself refers to the species or to humanity (mankind) as a whole.

The Germanic word developed into Old English man, mann meaning primarily "adult male human" but secondarily capable of designating a person of unspecified gender, "someone, one" or humanity at large (see also Old Norse maðr, Gothic manna "man"). *Mannaz or *Manwaz is also the Proto-Germanic reconstructed name of the m-rune ?. More restricted English terms for an adult male include the prefix wer (werman for adult male 'man'; cognate: Latin vir; survives as the first element in "werewolf") and guma (cognate: Latin homo; survives as the second element in "bridegroom").

Adopting the term for the human species to refer to males is a common feature of Romance and Germanic languages, but is not found in most other European languages (Slavic ?elov?k? vs. m, Greek vs. , Finnish ihminen vs. mies etc.).


It is derived from a Proto-Indo-European root *man- (see Sanskrit/Avestan manu-, Slavic m "man, male").[1] The Slavic forms (Russian muzh "man, male" etc.) are derived from a suffixed stem *man-gyo-.[]

In Hindu mythology, Manu is the name of the traditional progenitor of humankind who survives a deluge and gives mankind laws. The hypothetically reconstructed Proto-Indo-European form *Manus may also have played a role in Proto-Indo-European religion based on this, if there is any connection with the figure of Mannus — reported by the Roman historian Tacitus in ca. AD 70 to be the name of a traditional ancestor of the Germanic peoples and son of Tuisto; modern sources other than Tacitus have reinterpreted this as "first man".[2]

In Old English the words wer and w?f (and w?fmann) were used to refer to "a man" and "a woman" respectively, while mann had the primary meaning of "adult male human" but could also be used for gender neutral purposes (as is the case with modern German man, corresponding to the pronoun in the English utterance "one does what one must").

Some etymologies treat the root as an independent one, as does the American Heritage Dictionary. Of the etymologies that do make connections with other Indo-European roots, man "the thinker" is the most traditional -- that is, the word is connected with the root *men- "to think" (cognate to mind). This etymology relies on humans describing themselves as "those who think" (see Human self-reflection). This etymology, however, is not generally accepted. A second potential etymology connects with Latin manus ("hand"), which has the same form as Sanskrit manus.[3]

Another speculative etymology postulates the reduction of the ancestor of "human" to the ancestor of "man". Human is from *dhghem-, "earth", thus implying *(dh)ghom-on- would be an "earthdweller". The latter word, when reduced to just its final syllable, would be merely *m-on-[]. This is the view of Eric Partridge, Origins, under man. Such a derivation might be credible if only the Germanic form was known, but the attested Indo-Iranian manu virtually excludes the possibility. Moreover, *(dh)ghom-on- is known to have survived in Old English not as mann but as guma, the ancestor of the second element of the Modern English word bridegroom.[4]

In the late twentieth century, the generic meaning of "man" declined (but is also continued in compounds "mankind", "everyman", "no-man", etc.).[5] The same thing has happened to the Latin word homo: in most of the Romance languages, homme, uomo, hombre, homem have come to refer mainly to males, with a residual generic meaning. The exception is Romanian, where om refers to a 'human', vs. b?rbat (male).

The inflected forms of Old English mann are:[6]

sg. pl.
nom. mann menn
gen. mannes manna
dat. menn mannum
acc. mann menn

The inflected forms of Old High German word for man (without i-mutation) are:[7]

sg. pl.
nom. man man
gen. mannes mannô
dat. manne, also man mannum, mannun, mannom, mannen
acc. manann, also man man

The inflected forms of the Old Norse word for man, maðr, are:[8]

sg. pl.
nom. maðr menn
gen. manns manna
dat. manni m?nnum
acc. mann menn

Modern usage

The word "man" is still used in its generic meaning in literary English.

The verb to man (i.e. "to furnish [a fortress or a ship] with a company of men") dates to early Middle English.

The word has been applied generally as a suffix in modern combinations like "fireman", "policeman" and "mailman". With social changes in the later 20th century, new gender-neutral terms were coined, such as "firefighter", "police officer" and "mail carrier", to redress the gender-specific connotations of occupational names. Feminists argued that the confusion of man as human and man as male were linguistic symptoms of male-centric definitions of humanity.[9]

In US American slang, man! also came to be used as an interjection, not necessarily addressing the listener but simply added for emphasis, much like boy!

Also, in American English, the expression "The Man", referring to "the oppressive powers that be", originated in the Southern United States in the 20th century, and became widespread in the urban underworld from the 1950s.

Use of man- as a prefix and in composition usually denotes the generic meaning of "human", as in mankind, man-eating, man-made, etc. In some instances, when modifying gender-neutral nouns, the prefix may also denote masculine gender, as in manservant (17th century). In the context of the culture war of the 2000s to 2010s, man was introduced as a derogatory prefix in feminist jargon in some instances,[10] in neologisms such as mansplaining (2008) manspreading (2014), etc.

See also


  1. ^ American Heritage Dictionary, Appendix I: Indo-European Roots. man-1 Archived 2006-05-19 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 2007-07-22.
  2. ^ Annihilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide, p. 12, Alexander Laban Hinton, University of California Press, 2002
  3. ^ George Hempl, "Etymologies", The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 22, No. 4 (1901), pp. 426-431, The Johns Hopkins University Press [1]
  4. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary s.v. bridegroom. Retrieved 2011-12-01.
  5. ^ "man, n.1 (and int.)." OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2015. Web. 13 November 2015.
  6. ^ Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson, A Guide to Old English, 6th ed p. 29.
  7. ^ Karl August Hahn, Althochdeutsche Grammatik, p. 37.
  8. ^ Old Norse Lesson Seven by Óskar Guðlaugsson and Haukur Þorgeirsson
  9. ^ Dale Spender, 1980. Man-Made Language.
  10. ^ Clark, Imogen, and Andrea Grant. "Sexuality and danger in the field: starting an uncomfortable Conversation." JASO: Special Issue on Sexual Harassment in the Field (2015): 1-14.

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