Man. is it a gender neutral word?

Lots of people in the news lately have been “debating” the term “man” in the context of humans, fireman, policeman etc. The word man comes from a very different word, “mann,” used in a language spoken over 1,000 years ago on an island where England and Scotland are today. That language is called Old English or Anglo-Saxon, and it was spoken and written down by the dominant English island tribes of the late first millennium AD. Unlike modern English, Anglo-Saxon had two words that could mean male. In modern English, we use the word “man” to mean “a male person.” Earlier in the development of our language, “man” was used to mean “humans,” but that time has passed. The word man is now rare in the meaning “human being in general”. Already in the 1800s it was largely confined to literary or proverbial use in this meaning, other words such as person or people being more commonly used instead.


Nevertheless, the word mankind comes from the more gender-neutral use of the word man. Man is a uncommon subcategories of the world people. Possibly that’s because it’s become too confusing to use “man” — it’s hard to know what it means in any given context when we have no word like wæpenmann that refers exclusively to males. But we do have the words “person” and “human” that clearly refer to both sexes, so those have eclipsed “man” when speaking about everyone. Linguistics researcher Dave Wilton explains: In modern English we only have the unmarked “man” and the marked “woman” to refer to the two sexes, but in Old English there was also the marked “wæpenmann” that referred only to males (literally “weapon-man,” either referring to arms or None of your business ) and “wif” and “wifmann” meaning “woman” (the origin of the modern “wife” and “woman”). So in Old English “mann” is a bit more gender neutral than “man” is in modern English, but not entirely so. the word “mankind” can be traced back to a specific use of this lost word “mann” from the anglo-saxon word “mann-cynm” meaning both a group of men and all humanity. The OED’s Durkin said, “The word mankind was formed from man and kind ‘type, sort.’ It has always much more typically shown the meaning ‘humanity in general’ rather than ‘adult male human beings in general’.” But, he cautioned, the word “man” is rarely used these days to mean “all humanity.” So “mankind” retained its gender-neutral meaning in English for much longer than “man” did. Given that today’s use of the word “man” is almost never gender neutral, that would seem to suggest that we should be using “humanity” or “humankind” if we want to be precise.

So should we stick with man or change everything to gender neutral so we end up with hominem sapian or could we least stop these petty squabbles on what should be man or not man.




  1. What a well-written piece – thank you, Goldrhino! You’ve done really good research which shows curiosity and your storytelling skills really show here. I’d like you to think sceptically about your idea here. Why might people want to stop using ‘man’ as a term for the human race?

    • Elaine Primary Academy Elaine Primary Academy

      I think that we shouldn’t stop using the word man. I mean its in human and management so i think she should just keep it as it is a bit dramatic that people are saying this.

  2. Using the word ‘man’ gives people the wrong impression – that men don’t care about women. This is wrong, because, there are many men in the world who fight alongside girls for their rights. Instead of using the word ‘man’, we should say, e.g…
    • police-OFFICER
    • fire- FIGHTER etc.

  3. Elaine Primary Academy Elaine Primary Academy

    I think that the word fireman isn’t offence and shouldn’t be. In the TV show ‘Fireman Sam’ A lot of people think that this is sexist when there is a character named Penny who is female. I believe that we shouldn’t change it to firefighter as there are women fireman or ‘firefighter’ that have no problem with this.

    – KuteDogg

  4. Elaine Primary Academy Elaine Primary Academy


    I don’t agree because just because it gives people a wrong impression it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t change the word we should make it clear it not the fact that men don’t care about women its just how us English speak so we should keep all of those words the same it.

  5. Elaine Primary Academy Elaine Primary Academy

    In Lanzarote every time a boy is born they lay and palm tree for them as they think that boy’s are more important. Do you agree with this? Should they still be doing this tradition?

  6. Elaine Primary Academy Elaine Primary Academy

    ‘Man’ is definitely not a gender neutral word because it represents boys (males) like ‘Woman’ represents girls (females). Some situations where they class some words as sexist are taking too far like where some women think that the word ‘women’ should be changed but what word could we change women to? And we could just stick to the word ladies. Another thing that I have went across is the campaign to find a different word for ‘snowman’ which I disagree with because this is not effecting your life so much that you have to make the decision to change it and I think it is a bit far-fetched. So overall, I think it is a bad idea to change these words.