“Man” vs “human”

book, Words and Women by Casey Miller and Kate Swift

Words & Women


The meanings, or implications of “boy,” “girl,” and “man” have shifted over the last several hundred years. “Man” used to mean human; so you’d see a sentence like, “There were two men of London: a woman and her son.”* But it came more and more to mean males only, so that “fisherman,” which might once have been as generic as “farmer” or “pioneer,” now brings to mind only males. The whole mankind = man = men way of writing encourages us to think only of males. So we get blinkered communications such as, “The pioneers went west with their possessions, wives, and children” because the writer thinks of pioneers as men and forgets that women and children were pioneers, too. We have to include women again if we want girls to grow up using the full scope of their abilities.

*Source, Words and Women by Casey Miller and Kate Swift

See also A Handbook of Non-sexist Writing and its reviews.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described Ercongota, daughter of a seventh-century English king, as “a wonderful man.” No, she didn’t have a sex change. In her day, “man” was a true generic term meaning “person” or “human being.” Many older English writings do indeed use “man” in this sense. But, as this book explains, our language has changed, and this generic usage is no longer appropriate.

I grew up on “man = humankind” rhetoric so I can adjust to it but I now notice that it’s exclusionary.

One Response to ““Man” vs “human””

  1. Joel Says:

    I was taught that using the terms “man/men” was a gramatical contraction for “humanity,” a tool to simplify having to say “man and woman” or “men and women” all the time! It is easily understood and it worked! It wasn’t chauvenistic! Now I find that instead of using “him/his,” the terms “her/hers” and “she” are used instead, when referring to GOD, one’s baby, etc., in order to avoid chauvenism. I find it absurd, and annoying! It’s just chauvenism in reverse! I was in favor of the women’s movement in America when it began in the late 1960’s! I thought, “Great! They’ll teach men to be more gentle and loving, more in touch with their feminine side, less businesslike, more human.” Instead, it became dominated by lesbians, who just wanted to be more like men, attain power in the workplace and make the same money, equal pay for equal labor. That’s okay as far as it goes. But in my opinion, the women’s movement fell far short of its potential to change society for the best, and in fact has just made it worse! It has embraced all the bad things that men had and have done to society, all the emotional illness and neurosis! In short, the women’s movement, women in pant suits, has solidified all the bad attitudes and practices of men, making them even more embedded in society; and have become as sick as the men and the society they wished to change in the first place! In fact, they have proven that they were always as ill as their men. All they accomplished is making it easier to leave home after having babies, leaving their kids with latch keys, alone or in day care, instead of being mothers! Our children have suffered! Two working parents to survive in an increasingly inflated economy is a bad thing, when one used to suffice! Two working parents as a necessity is a bad thing! NOW is not responsible for inflation. BUT – The womens’ movement has failed miserably when it comes to changing society for the best, and has only added to the problems that we had when women stayed home to raise their kids! It was a better world then, despite the chauvenism! Women can now claim equal responsibility for the woes of modern life, and all the problems their kids have! Congratulations!


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