Saturday, July 30, 2011

Man and Woman

This interesting pair of words raises a few questions: Why does woman end with man? What does the wo mean? Does woman mean “man with a womb”?

In Old English (OE), man referred to both adult sexes and is of Germanic origin. Old Icelandic uses the word mathr in the same way, to refer to adults of both sexes, making konamathr (man) and kvennamathr (woman). In OE a female adult was wīfman (wife + man) and a male adult wǽpnedman (weaponed + man). Wife is OE meaning woman, origin unknown. “Weaponed-man” likely refers to a warrior and by extension adult males.

Following established rules for word changes, wifman morphed over the centuries to woman. The plural women was added later, likely to match the plural for man. Man itself was shortened from wǽpnedman by dropping the prefix, a common trend in most languages.


  1. Here's a question for you: why HUman, then?

  2. Good question, Ky. I touched on this in my July 13 post "Etymology & Folk Etymology".
    "Human" comes from Middle English "humain(e)" via Old French from Latin "humanus" and ultimately from Latin "homo" (human being).
    There are two different meanings for "homo". The Latin word "homo" means “man”, hence the scientific name for our species, "Homo sapiens". The Greek word "homos" means "the same" (opposite to "hetero") which is the source of “homogenized milk”.
    This raises the question: does "homosexual" come from the Latin, and mean “man loving man”? or from Greek and mean “person loving person of same gender”? The clue is the opposite term "heterosexual" so "homosexual" can refer to woman + woman relationships as well as man + man.

    I wish the Comments would support italics!

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