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For other uses see Man (disambiguation)

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. This is indeed the oldest usage of "man". The word developed into Old English man, mann "human being, person," (cf. also German Mann, Old Norse maðr, Gothic manna "man"). The native English term for an adult male was wer. The native English form of the "earthling" designation cognate to Latin homo was guma.

*Mannaz or *Manwaz is also the Proto-Germanic reconstructed name of the m-rune .



It is derived from a Proto-Indo-European root *man- (cf. Sanskrit/Avestan manu-, Czech muž "man, male").[1] In Hindu mythology, Manu is a title accorded the progenitor of humankind. Sometimes, the word is connected with the root *men- "to think" (cognate to mind). Restricted use in the sense "adult male" only began to occur in late Old English, around 1000 AD, and the word formerly expressing male sex, wer had died out by 1300 (but survives in a few words such as werewolf and weregild). The original sense of the word is preserved in mankind, from Old English mancynn.

In Old English the words wer and wīf (also wǣpmann and wīfmann) were used to refer to "a man" and "a woman" respectively, while mann was gender neutral (as is the case with modern German man; the modern German gender-neutral noun is Mensch). In Middle English man displaced wer as the term for "male human," whilst wyfman (which eventually evolved into woman) was retained for "female human". Man does continue to carry its original sense of "human" however, resulting in an asymmetry sometimes criticized as sexist. [2] It is derived from a Proto-Indo-European base *man-, with a variant *mon- (cf. Sanskrit/Avestan manu-). The Slavic forms (Russian muzh "man, male" etc.) are derived from a suffixed stem *mon-gyo-. *Manus in Indo-European mythology was the first man, see Mannus, Manu (Hinduism)

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 presumes that man is the one who thinks, which fits the definition of man given by René Descartes as a "rational animal", indebted to Aristotle's ζῷον λόγoν ἔχον, which is also the basis for Homo sapiens (see Human self-reflection). This etymology is however not generally accepted. In Finnish, which is not a Germanic language, there is a possible analogy of this etymology. In Finnish, "human" is "ihminen", which means somebody that is wondering.

A second etymology postulates the reduction of the ancestor of "human" to the ancestor of "man". Human is from *dhghem-, "earth". *(dh)ghom-on- is some sort of “earthling” . The word would reduce to just its final syllable, *m-on-. You may find this point of view in Eric Partridge, Origins, under man. Such a derivation might be credible if we had only the Germanic form (also note that Tuisto, father of Mannus, is the god who sprang from the earth), but the attested Indo-Iranian manu virtually excludes the possibility.

In the twentieth century, the generic meaning of "man" declined still further (but survives in compounds "mankind", "everyman", "no-man", etc), and is now mostly seen as archaic, with the word used almost exclusively to mean "adult male". The same thing has happened to the Latin word homo: in most of the Romance languages, homme, uomo, om, hombre, homem have come to refer mainly to males, with residual generic meaning.

The inflected forms of OHG man are[3]

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


Mannus is the latinization of the Germanic term as given by Tacitus. According to Tacitus, Mannus is the son of the earth-born Tuisto and the ancestor and founder of the three Germanic tribes:

Mannaz rune

This article contains runic characters. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of runes.
Name Proto-Germanic Anglo-Saxon Old Norse
*Mannaz Man Maðr
"man, human"
Shape Elder Futhark Futhorc Younger Futhark
Runic letter mannaz.svg Long-branch m rune.png Short-twig m rune.png
Transliteration m
Transcription m
IPA [m]
Position in rune-row 20 14

*Mannaz or *Manwaz is also the Proto-Germanic the reconstructed name of the m-rune . It also implies the links between the Self and Mankind, Relationships, as well as the emphasis on teamwork, and bonding with others.

Two early forms of the m-rune of the Younger Futhark.

Younger Futhark ᛘ is maðr ("man"). It took up the shape of the algiz rune ᛉ, replacing Old Futharkmannaz.

The rune is recorded in all three rune poems, in the Norwegian and Icelandic poems as maðr, and in the Anglo-Saxon poem as man. As its sound value and form in the Elder Futhark indicate, it is derived from the Greek letter Mu.

Rune Poem:[4] English Translation:

Old Norwegian
Maðr er moldar auki;
mikil er græip á hauki.

Man is an augmentation of the dust;
great is the claw of the hawk.

Old Icelandic
Maðr er manns gaman
ok moldar auki
ok skipa skreytir.
homo mildingr.

Man is delight of man
and augmentation of the earth
and adorner of ships.

Man byþ on myrgþe his magan leof:
sceal þeah anra gehwylc oðrum swican,
forðum drihten wyle dome sine
þæt earme flæsc eorþan betæcan.

The joyous man is dear to his kinsmen;
yet every man is doomed to fail his fellow,
since the Lord by his decree will commit the vile carrion to the earth.

Modern usage

In the 20th century, the generic meaning of man has declined still further (but survives in compounds mankind, everyman, no-man's land, etc). Exactly the same thing has happened to the Latin word homo: in the Romance languages, homme, uomo, om, hombre, homem etc. have all come to refer mainly to males, with residual generic meaning.

The word has historically been used very generally as a suffix in combinations like "fireman", "policeman" and "mailman", because those jobs were historically only jobs that men did. Now that there is an increasing number of women in these jobs, those terms are often replaced by neutral terms like "firefighter", "police officer" and "mail carrier".

The word "man" is also commonly used in combination with express of exclamation in American verbal communication similar to the word "dude": "Man! The gas prices here are really expensive!". It is also used in the expression "The Man", usually referring to some form of authority and one often viewed by the speaker as oppressive.

The word "man" is still used in its generic meaning in literary English. In the The Lord of the Rings, the capitalized form Man (plural: Men) is used to refer to the race of humans (as distinguished from other races found in the Tolkien canon, such as Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs). When spelled in lowercase, man and men refer to adult males of any race (likewise, "woman/women" refer to adult females of any race). The ambiguity of the term plays a key role in The Return of the King in the confrontation between Éowyn and the Witch-king of Angmar. In the confrontation, the latter boasts that it has been prophesied that "no living man may hinder me", and is thereupon slain by Éowyn, a female human.[5]

See also


  1. ^ American Heritage Dictionary, Appendix I: Indo-European Roots. man-1. Accessed 2007-07-22.
  2. ^ man - Definitions from
  3. ^ Karl August Hahn, Althochdeutsche Grammatik, p. 37.
  4. ^ Original poems and translation from the Rune Poem Page.
  5. ^ Tolkien, J.R.R. (1954 [2005]). The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin.   paperback: ISBN 0-618-64015-0

Runes See also: Rune poems · Runestones · Runology · Runic divination v • d • e
Elder Fuþark:          
Anglo-Saxon Fuþorc: o c ȝ eo x œ   a æ y ea
Younger Fuþark: ą     a               ʀ        
Transliteration: f u þ a r k g w · h n i j ï p z s · t b e m l ŋ d o


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