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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 man, 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, or "mankind", as a whole. The usage persists in all registers of English although it has an old-fashioned tone.
Equating the term for the male with the whole species is common in many languages, for example in French (l'Homme). On the other hand, some languages have a general word for 'human individual' which can apply to people of either gender. German has the general word Mensch (although the grammatical gender is masculine), next to Mann for (adult) male person. Modern Standard Chinese has 人 (/rén/), analogous to the German Mensch, not English Man; the words 男人 (man) and 女人 (woman) are both diglyphs with the gender designations of individuals prefixed before 人.
It is derived from a Proto-Indo-European root *man- (see Sanskrit/Avestan manu-, Slavic mǫž "man, male"). The Slavic forms (Russian muzh "man, male" etc.) are derived from a suffixed stem *man-gyo-.
In Hindu mythology, Manu is the name of the traditional progenitor of humankind who survives a deluge and gives mankind laws. The hypothetically reconstructed Proto-Indo-European form *Manus may also have played a role in Proto-Indo-European religion based on this, if there is any connection with the figure of Mannus — reported by the Roman historian Tacitus in ca. AD 70 to be the name of a traditional ancestor of Germans and son of Tuisto; modern sources other than Tacitus have reinterpreted this as "first man".
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 relies on humans describing themselves as "those who think" (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.
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:
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The word "man" is still used in its generic meaning in literary English. 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 been applied generally as a suffix in modern combinations like "fireman", "policeman" and "mailman." With social changes in the later 20th century, new gender-neutral terms were coined, such as "firefighter", "police officer" and "mail carrier," to redress the gender-specific connotations of occupational names. Feminists argued that the confusion of man as human and man as male were linguistic symptoms of male-centric definitions of humanity.
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.
Special case: The Lord of the Rings
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.
- American Heritage Dictionary, Appendix I: Indo-European Roots. man-1. Accessed 2007-07-22.
- Annihilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide, p. 12, Alexander Laban Hinton, University of California Press, 2002
- 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
- Dale Spender, 1980. Man-Made Language.
- Tolkien, J.R.R. (1954) . The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin. paperback: ISBN 0-618-64015-0