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The term man (from Proto-Germanic *mannaz or *manwaz "man, person") and words derived from it can designate any or even all of the human race regardless of their sex or age. The word developed into Old English man, mann meaning primarily "adult male human" but secondarily capable of designating a person of unspecified gender, "someone, one" or humanity at large (see also German Mann, Old Norse maðr, Gothic manna "man"). More restricted English terms for an adult male were wer (cognate: Latin vir; survives as the first element in "werewolf") and guma (cognate: Latin homo; survives as the second element in "bridegroom").
However, Man in traditional usage refers to the species, to humanity as a whole. Equating the term for the male with the whole species is commonly occurring in other languages (e.g. French l'Homme), particularly in traditional registers, but not uniformly even within language groups. For example, the German equivalent of "Man" is "Mensch" which is male grammatically (itself a possible expression of the tradition as this is an exception to normal morphology which would have Mensch neuter) but refers to a general person not a male one. The usage persists in all registers of English although it has an old-fashioned tone. Modern Standard Chinese has 男人 (man) and 女人 (woman) both diglyphs with 人 but 人 is analogous to the German Mensch, not English Man and the gender designations of individuals are both prefixed.
It is derived from a Proto-Indo-European root *man- (see Sanskrit/Avestan manu-, Slavic mǫž "man, male"). In Hindu mythology, Manu is a title accorded the progenitor of humankind. The Slavic forms (Russian muzh "man, male" etc.) are derived from a suffixed stem *man-gyo-. *Manus in Indo-European mythology was the first man, see Mannus, Manu (Hinduism)
In Old English the words wer and wīf (and wīfmann) were used to refer to "a man" and "a woman" respectively, while mann had the primary meaning of "adult male human" but could also be used for gender neutral purposes (as is the case with modern German man, corresponding to the pronoun in the English utterance "one does what one must").
Some etymologies treat the root as an independent one, as does the American Heritage Dictionary. Of the etymologies that do make connections with other Indo-European roots, man "the thinker" is the most traditional — that is, the word is connected with the root *men- "to think" (cognate to mind). This etymology presumes that man is the one who thinks, which fits the definition of man given by René Descartes as a "rational animal", indebted to Aristotle's ζῷον λόγoν ἔχον, which is also the basis for Homo sapiens (see Human self-reflection). This etymology, however, is not generally accepted. A second potential etymology connects with Latin "manus" ("hand"), which has the same form as Sanskrit "manus", and is related to French "main" ("hand").
Another speculative etymology postulates the reduction of the ancestor of "human" to the ancestor of "man". Human is from *dhghem-, "earth", thus implying *(dh)ghom-on- would be an "earthdweller". The latter word, when reduced to just its final syllable, would be merely *m-on-. This is the view of Eric Partridge, Origins, under man. Such a derivation might be credible if only the Germanic form was known, but the attested Indo-Iranian manu virtually excludes the possibility. Moreover, *(dh)ghom-on- is known to have survived in Old English not as mann but as guma, the ancestor of the second element of the Modern English word bridegroom.
In the late twentieth century, the generic meaning of "man" declined (but is also continued in compounds "mankind", "everyman", "no-man", etc.). The same thing has happened to the Latin word homo: in most of the Romance languages, homme, uomo, om, hombre, homem have come to refer mainly to males, with a residual generic meaning.
The inflected forms of Old English mann are
|dat.||manne, also man||mannum, mannun, mannom, mannen|
|acc.||manann, also man||man|
The inflected forms of the Old Norse word for man, maðr, are:
Mannus is the Latinized form of the Germanic term as given by Tacitus. According to Tacitus, Mannus is the son of the earth-born Tuisto and the ancestor and founder of the three basic groupings of the Germanic tribes:
- the Ingvaeones (living at the coastal line of the North Sea);
- the Irminones (living in the interior part around the Elbe);
- the Istvaeones (living at the borders of the river Rhine).
The word "man" is still used in its generic meaning in literary English. In The Lord of the Rings, the capitalized form Man (plural: Men) is used to refer to the race of humans (as distinguished from other races found in the Tolkien canon, such as Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs). When spelled in lowercase, man and men refer to adult males of any race (likewise, "woman/women" refer to adult females of any race). The ambiguity of the term plays a key role in The Return of the King in the confrontation between Éowyn and the Witch-king of Angmar. In the confrontation, the latter boasts that it has been prophesied that "no living man may hinder me", and is thereupon slain by Éowyn, a female human.
The verb to man (i.e. "to furnish [a fortress or a ship] with a company of men" dates to early Middle English.
The word has historically been used very generally as a suffix in combinations like "fireman", "policeman" and "mailman". Because those jobs were historically jobs done by men only, these terms were not felt any longer to be gender-neutral (as they originally would have been), and artificial terms coined to be emphatically gender-neutral were coined in the pursuit of political correctness, such as "firefighter", "police officer" and "mail carrier".
In US American slang, man! also came to be used as an interjection, not necessarily addressing the listener but simply added for emphasis, much like boy!. Also in American English, the expression The Man referring to "the oppressive powers that be" originated in the Southern States in the 19th century, and became widespread in the urban underworld from the 1950s.
- American Heritage Dictionary, Appendix I: Indo-European Roots. man-1. Accessed 2007-07-22.
- George Hempl, "Etymologies", The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 22, No. 4 (1901), pp. 426-431, The Johns Hopkins University Press 
- Online Etymology Dictionary s.v. bridegroom. Retrieved 2011-12-01.
- Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson, A Guide to Old English, 6th ed p. 29.
- Karl August Hahn, Althochdeutsche Grammatik, p. 37.
- Old Norse Lesson Seven by Óskar Guðlaugsson and Haukur Þorgeirsson
- Tolkien, J.R.R. (1954 ). The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin. paperback: ISBN 0-618-64015-0