September 4, 2016

Why it’s hard to gender neuter man from the English language.

As we de-gender language, what word do we use instead of man to refer to men/women/androgynists?

Some suggest that mankind should be replaced with humankind. The problem is that human stems from Latin homo meaning man. So how about using personkind? Persona originated in pre-Latin Etruscan and means actor’s mask. And while genderless itself, in Etruscan and early Roman theater, the word actors referred only to men.

The problem is that men dominated the world these word were born into. Etruscan, Roman and most Greek women couldn’t vote, hold office or own land. There was little need for terms for men and women as equals, since they weren’t.

So what about the silly-sounding peoplekind? It’s from the Etruscan populus and is actually closer to what we’re looking for, but it doesn’t work in the singular.

So here’s where it gets interesting: Before the second millennium mann in Old English was gender neutral, and used for both sexes. (Wif and wer distinguished female and male.) It was only after 1000 AD that man came to mean adult male. But over the next thousand years words like mankind (from Old English and gender-neutral mancynn) persisted and human (that re-affiliated both genders) has kept the genderless meaning of man alive. But then we can’t leave it alone, can we?

What seems logical to me (as the distinction between sexes get more blurred) is that the replacement word we’re looking for is being. It has a plural. It distinguishes us from creatures. And it has longevity since it can apply to intelligent aliens who may someday cohabit the earth with us and they’ll feel as equals.

Beingkind. Has a ring to it.

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