Re: Gender in language
Tue, 24 Mar 1998 10:56:37 -0700


Sorry, but English inherited *none* of its grammatical structure from
either Latin or Greek, despite borrowing a myriad of words from each.
Ancient Germanic, like modern German, and English itself in vestigial form,
had three genders as well. The three-gender system seems to be as old as

It's absolutely not true that "man" entered the language in the ME period,
as a glance at any Anglo-Saxon (Old English) textbook will show. As Damien
pointed out, the original meaning does indeed seem to have been "person" in
general; witness modern German "man" (used as a pronoun roughly
corresponding to the English pronoun "one"). Modern German "Mann" and the
male-specific use of Modern English "man" are later _specializations_ of
the word. Hence OE "wifman", which became ModE "woman", literally means
"woman-person". BTW, the "wif-" part of the word is the same as ModE "wife"
and ModG "Weib"="woman, wife".

Linguistically yours,
Dick Gray

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Date: Mon, 23 Mar 1998 23:56:23 +0000
From: "Kathryn Aegis" <>
I think Damien wrote this:
>I think I've read that Old English originally had another word meaning
>humans' and that 'man' was originally restricted to its inclusive sense,
Ancient Greek possessed three genders: masculine, feminine and
neuter. When the resulting Latin grammer was superimposed over the
Germanic roots of early English a few centuries ago, these three
genders passed into English but not to the extent that other
languages utilize them. English is actually one of the more
gender-neutral languages, and is highly flexible in accomodating
non-gendered discourse. The word that you are trying to remember
probably came from a Germanic or Icelandic language, because Old
English vocabulary bore a closer resemblance to the root languages,
both in form and pronunciation, and most of our 'household words'
(words that refer to practical objects) entered the language through
repeated invasion by Germanic and Icelandic tribes. But 'man' as a
word did not enter the English language until the Middle English
period, and I can find no evidence that it was restricted to the
inclusive 'human'. It actually had four or five meanings, many of
which you will find in Shakespeare.
I myself prefer to utilize the word 'human', as it precisely shows
what stage of evolutionary development I am talking about: Human,
transhuman, posthuman.
Kathryn Aegis

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