Monday, November 23, 2015
Oh, Men! Oh, Women!
Some feminists have objected to the words woman and women because they contain the words man and men and seem to define persons of the feminine gender only as a sub-category of the masculine. They have proposed womyn and wimmin as alternatives.
In fact, the word man referred to a person of either sex until sometime around the 8th century. Before then, a male person was known as a wer (a word now lost, except in a word like werewolf or as the origin of world), and a female person was a wif or wyf (a word that developed into wife with a specialized meaning). The term wifman was used to designate a female servant.
Sometime before the 12th century wifman and werman came into use to distinguish female and male persons. Wifman then morphed into woman, and werman lost its first syllable.
Thus woman developed independently of any reference to the male gender.
Incidentally male and female have no etymological connection. Female, a 14th-century word, derives from the Old French femelle, which is based on the Latin femella (“girl”), a diminutive of femina (“woman”). Male, also 14th century, comes from Old French masle, which originated in the Latin masculus (“male”). Femelle was changed to female because of the supposed association with male, but the words are not truly related in any way.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou believes that men are men and women are women and never the twain shall meet. Someday he hopes to work that line into a poem. Until then, you’ll have to settle for this tripe:
There was a young woman
Who married a Roman
Who lived in a house near the Forum.
She was a slattern
Whose life formed a pattern
Quite lacking in proper decorum.
Her husband (named Junius)
Was so impecunious
She felt she must earn a denarius,
So she joined a bordello,
Where every last fellow
Found her talents were many and various.
Now Junius was sly
And he turned a blind eye
To his wife’s dissolute occupation,
And he went on a spree
To the Isle of Capri,
For a fabulous five-star vacation.