MAN VS. WOMAN
I've heard a lot of people over the years utter the same misconception; that woman is a combination of womb and man. This is in fact incorrect. Woman does not have sexist undertones; the origins are in fact platonic. The word originally was wimman, which meant "adult female". Going further back, this was the infamous word wifman, also the direct origin of the word "wife", after a dropping of -man. Wifman is a combination of two words; that being wif, "female" and man, meaning "human". Yes, man used to be a gender neutral word meaning "person" and still exists today in reference to all of humankind, and also as a male, a term which developed later. Man is from the reconstructed Proto-Germanic word manwaz, which stems from the Proto-Indo-European root man, also referring to "people". As such a ubiquitous term, man has altered very little over time. Wif as a prefix for wifman also traces back to Proto-Germanic and the word wiban, still referring to a female. Though the origin for this is uncertain, but it has been theorized to come from several (theorized) PIE words, the two most common theories being that it came from a word meaning "female genitalia" and that it came from an early word for "shame". If the latter is true, the word is sexist, but not in the way most people think. Really, woman means "female human".
2/16/2017 02:49:02 pm
Can you do a post on the words that changed the least since proto-indo-european? That'd be really interesting.
7/8/2017 05:49:05 am
If you go to my infographics page, you can see "How Household Nouns Changed Over Time", which shows amount of alteration.
8/28/2019 06:38:19 pm
I agree with this, and people has changed terms and their meanings overtime.. but again to make strong argument about genders, we are all females both soul and cell wise.. the vigina change into a penis.. the human man with the penis is the counter part of the human female.. like the word husband is actually house band.. these are metaphysical terms that was use while ago.. even God is a woman.. the planets are womb and the sun is the mind.. but it’s still a female or wombman or whatever..
3/12/2021 06:18:08 pm
Wow, I’ll love to chat with you more. This comment is on point. Thanks
1/2/2022 09:29:01 pm
Sounds like you are talking about a combination of different history.
5/13/2019 12:36:11 am
Thank you for this article. Do you have an article on female?
JONATHAN L MUELLER
7/5/2019 01:40:56 pm
So what was the prefix to "man" that meant " adult male"?
7/16/2019 08:27:53 pm
Old English "wer"
5/4/2020 03:07:23 am
I thought that was a myth? Do you have anything to back it up?
6/26/2020 09:50:19 am
Not a myth at all: 'Were' still exists in modern English as 'werewolf, ie man-wolf.
9/10/2020 06:47:43 am
This is very helpful. It strengthens my view that the word "chairman" is gender neutral in that it means "the human who chairs the meeting." Some argue that "chairperson" is more gender neutral, but sooner or later someone will also object to that word because it has "son" on the end!
10/5/2021 10:06:33 pm
How does "womb-man" have sexist undertones, if as your paragraph even admits, the word "man" originally referred to people. And while i'm here, the word "fe-male" is again reaffirming the idea of femininity juxtaposed onto the male root.
10/21/2021 10:20:10 am
But the problem for if the word is problematic or not is not because of its etymology. There are many words I don't want to write in this forum that have completely harmless and sometimes counteracting etymologies. So what if man used to mean human, it doesn't anymore, it means male person, because this is the most basic form of human we have in most of our modern society. Everything else, even being female, is considered attributes; i.e "sad man", "homosexual man", "short man" and as I still believe: "woman". Being female is considered to be an attribute to the human being.
6/7/2022 01:55:20 am
The most plainly stated malevolent sexism I have ever heard in my life. Wow. Men really think they came first and are the ‘basic human’ and being women is an attribute of a man. Wow. That is horrifying. I wish I was born about 200 years in the future where male-men/manmen are more intelligent. Thankfully I have a good one next to me I am married to as far as two weeks ago at the courthouse. As far as men like this? I cannot believe the logic is still so absolutely elementary about women. It’s stupefying and a blood-curling horror every day to witness men like this that think this way. It’s blood-curling. So, by that same logic, white men are the default men since that is the neutral color of skin and being yellow, brown or black is an attributable tone to the default skin. How nightmarishly horrifying these men are. My intellectual property is shriveling into my vagina due to it not being a penis and staying outside of my non-default body. Eugenics, anyone? Blood-born levels of implied sexism, anyone? Does everyone remember that humans aren’t born out of ribs or do we need a basic biology lesson for the incels in the back.
2/9/2023 06:45:10 am
It's pointless to argue back from the appearance of the word to some philosophical meaning underpinning the supposed true meaning of the word. Especially if the word is totally contingent and disconnected from that meaning in it's origin.
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic. This year, I graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Government and Linguistics. There, I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society and wrote a thesis on Serbo-Croatian language policy, magna cum laude. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.