• man •
mæn, -mên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, suffix
Meaning: 1. Male adult human being. 2. Human being.
Notes: Since they are spelled the same way, people often confuse the noun suffix -man with the noun man. Postman [post-mên] contains the suffix, but mailman [mayl mæn] is actually two words, as indicated by the accent on each word. It should be written
mail man. The adjective, manly, refers to the traditional, stereotypical characteristic associated with men (strength), while womanly refers to that of women (tenderness).
In Play: 79% of the American Heritage editorial panel accepted this sentence: "If early man suffered from a lack of information, modern man is tyrannized by an excess of it." This usage has nothing to do with feminism. It is a matter of English grammar—specific versus generic semantics.
Word History: In Old English the principal sense of man was "a human", and the words wer (as preserved in werewolf "man-wolf") and wyf or wifman were used in the sense of "a male human" and "a female human", respectively. By Middle English man had displaced wer as the term for "a male human", while wyfman evolved into Modern English woman, keeping its sense of "a female human." Confusion arose only in the 1960s when feminists perceived the generic sense of man as "sexist". Throughout the Indo-European languages the masculine form is the default form of words referring to males and females. English has man and woman. The default form is man for both, and politics rarely has a permanent effect on grammar.
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