n. pl. men (mĕn)
1. An adult male human.
2. A human regardless of sex or age; a person.
3. A human or an adult male human belonging to a specific occupation, group, nationality, or other category. Often used in combination: a milkman; a congressman; a freeman.
4. The human race; mankind: man's quest for peace.
5. A male human endowed with qualities, such as strength, considered characteristic of manhood.
a. A husband.
b. A male lover or sweetheart.
b. Enlisted personnel of the armed forces: officers and men.
8. A male representative, as of a country or company: our man in Tokyo.
9. A male servant or subordinate.
10. Informal Used as a familiar form of address for a man: See here, my good man!
11. One who swore allegiance to a lord in the Middle Ages; a vassal.
12. Games Any of the pieces used in a board game, such as chess or checkers.
13. Nautical A ship. Often used in combination: a merchantman; a man-of-war.
14. often Man Slang A person or group felt to be in a position of power or authority. Used with the: "Their writing mainly concerns the street life—the pimp, the junky, the forces of drug addiction, exploitation at the hands of 'the man'" (Black World).
tr.v. manned, man·ning, mans
1. To supply with men, as for defense or service: man a ship.
2. To take stations at, as to defend or operate: manned the guns.
3. To fortify or brace: manned himself for the battle ahead.
Used as an expletive to indicate intense feeling: Man! That was close.
Slang To take an action displaying stereotypically masculine virtues such as decisiveness or courage.
as one man
1. In complete agreement; unanimously.
2. With no exception: They objected as one man.
(one's) own man
Independent in judgment and action.
to a man
Without exception: All were lost, to a man.
[Middle English, from Old English mann; see man-1 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Usage Note: Traditionally, many writers have used man and words derived from it to designate any or all of the human race regardless of sex. In fact, this is the oldest use of the word. In Old English the principal sense of man was "a human," and the words wer and wyf (or wæpman and wifman) were used to refer to "a male human" and "a female human" respectively. But in Middle English man displaced wer as the term for "a male human," while wyfman (which evolved into present-day woman) was retained for "a female human." Man also continued to carry its original sense of "a human," resulting in an asymmetric arrangement that many criticize as sexist. Despite the objections to the generic use of man, a solid majority of the Usage Panel still approves of it. For example, the sentence If early man suffered from a lack of information, modern man is tyrannized by an excess of it was acceptable to 79 percent of the Panel in our 2004 survey, and the sentence The site shows that man learned to use tools much earlier than scientists believed possible was acceptable to 75 percent. However, only 48 percent approved of the generic plural form of man, as in Men learned to use tools more than ten thousand years ago, probably because the plural, unlike the singular man, suggests that one is referring to actual men of ten thousand years ago, taking them as representative of the species. · A substantial majority of the Panel also accepts compound words derived from generic man, and resistance to these compounds does not appear to be increasing. In the 2004 survey, 87 percent accepted the sentence The Great Wall is the only manmade structure visible from space—essentially the same percentage that accepted this sentence in 1988 (86 percent). In the 2004 survey, 86 percent also accepted The first manmade fiber to be commercially manufactured in the US was rayon, in 1910, suggesting that context makes no difference on this issue. · As a verb, man was originally used in military and nautical contexts, when the group performing the action consisted entirely of men. In the days when only men manned the decks, there was no need for a different word to include women. Today, the verb form of man can be considered sexist when the subject includes or is limited to women, as in the sentence Members of the League of Women Voters will be manning the registration desk. But in our 2004 survey only 26 percent of the Usage Panel considered this sentence to be unacceptable. This is noticeably fewer Panelists than the 56 percent who rejected this same sentence in 1988. This suggests that for many people the issue of the generic use of man is not as salient as it once was. See Usage Notes at chairman, -ess, men.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.