Not long ago I wrote a short blog about the etymology of ‘ye olde’ (as in ‘ye olde shoppe’). ‘It was fascinating’, I hear you say. ‘You should write more of those’, I also hear you say. Well, it’s funny you should say that because…I am.
A lot of people don’t like it when the term ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ is used, because they feel that it excludes women or, at the very least, diminishes their importance and equality (that it’s sexist). So the etymology of the word is (quite mildly a bit) interesting.
In fact the word ‘man’, in Old English, used to be used the same as we use ‘person’ – gender neutral. It’s fairly recent that it has become used exclusively for males. The word ‘wer’ or ‘waepmann’ referred to a male, until the 1300s or so, and ‘wif’ or ‘wifmann’ referred to a female. ‘Wifmann’, obviously, evolved into ‘woman’. ‘Wer’ was simply replaced by ‘man’, which took on a double meaning then – of both a male person and a person in general.
The word ‘man’ actually meant ‘one who has intelligence’, while ‘men’ meant ‘to think’, making it clearer still that ‘man’ referred simply to human beings.
Again, these days people say that to say ‘man’ in reference to all people (even capitalised to make it obvious), is sexist. ‘Mankind’ is just about tolerated, it seems. No matter what it used to mean, people will still complain that it’s sexist because of what it now means. Still, it’s interesting to see where it came from.