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Homo, vir, mulier, man and woman

Falaba hai uns días, na anotación Linguaxe “non sexista” politicamente correcta… e corrixida, das falacias que hai detrás da linguaxe “inclusiva”, “non sexista” ou “non discriminatoria”… Hoxe volvo sobre a materia con dúas aportacións que indican que esta linguaxe pode ser “politicamente correcta” pero está etimoloxicamente desviada.

Isto é o que escribiu sobre o asunto que nos ocupa o usuario que se fai chamar Iustinus na Vicipaedia (Wikipedia en latín). É un extracto da súa “Translator’s Guide”:

[…] Words for “man” and “woman”
The distinction between homo, vir, mulier, and femina can be rather subtle.

  • The usual rule given is that homo means “man” as opposed to animal or god, whereas vir means “man” as opposed to woman or child. Nowadays we could say that vir means “man” whereas homo means “person” or “human” (though it is still always masculine).
  • In practice this distinction is complicated by rhetoric. Since homo was essentially a neutral word, whereas vir was positive, Romans would generally use vir in compliments and homo in insults: vir audax “a brave man” vs. homo audax “a man who doesn’t know what’s good for him.” Exceptions:
    • The Romans sometimes used homo with an otherwise positive adjective when the man in question was not upper class, or to form a backhanded compliment.
    • Since homo is the name of the human species, scientists of course use it without negative connotations, hence Homo sapiens.
    • Philosophers likewise use homo with neutral connotations, and so themselves are often called homines even in complimentary contexts.
  • For women the term mulier is used in a negative or neutral context, and femina in a positive context.
  • Note however that when we are directly contrasting men and women it is normal to use vir and mulier without any moral judgement: Nomina virorum et mulierum “Names of men and women.”
  • This topic is covered in more thorough detail in The Rhetoric of Gender Terms: ‘Man’, ‘Woman’, and the Portrayal of Character in Latin Prose by Francesca Santoro L’Hoir (ISBN: 9789004095120).
  • Persona: the basic meaning of persona is “mask.” From this it acquires the meaning “character (in a play or story), personage.” In Classical Latin it never means “person” per se. Use homo (or mulier) instead.
  • Populus: populus means “a people,” never “people” generally.


E isto é o que escribe, sobre o latín e tamén sobre o inglés, J. E. Rendini no blog Test Patterns, concretamente na anotación “Man, Woman And Inclusive Language”:

[…] Man and Woman in English’s History

Inclusive language advocates complain that English is a “sexist” language because, among other things, it uses the nouns or suffixes man or men (and the correlative pronouns he, him, etc.) to refer to human beings in an abstract, general or collective sense. They argue that doing so reflects a deep-rooted value judgment to the effect that, compared to men, women are not worth mentioning. Non-sexist speech, they feel, requires a neutral, gender-blind term for a human being. Therefore, they want the use of the word man limited to those instances where the speaker is referring to a particular adult male human being. Otherwise, “neutral” terms – e.g., human, human being, person – however grammatically awkward, must be used.

But this is re-inventing the wheel. There is no reason to “re-translate” traditional texts. There is no reason to impose awkward grammatical constructions on simple, clear English sentences. English already has a perfectly functional, widely accepted, grammatically elegant neutral word for a human being, human entity, human person, or just plain human. That word is man. What English lacks is not a general, neutral term for “human being,” but a specific term for “an adult male human being” to match up against woman, its specific term for “an adult female human being.” In this respect, the language is actually biased in favor of women.

To illustrate, compare English to Latin, which has three words for “human being”: homo, the general term for a human whether male or female; vir, an adult human male; and mulier, an adult human female. Against these three Latin words, modern English opposes only two words, man and woman. The English woman translates directly into the Latin mulier – they mean exactly the same thing. But what does man translate into?

The inclusive language people assume that man translates into vir and so to use man as a general term unfairly excludes women. […]

But the inclusive language people have assumed wrongly. As mentioned above, English lacks the specific term for a male human being: man does not translate into vir. Instead, man translates into the neutral Latin homo. […]

How did English get this way? In the beginning, things were different. English has its ancient roots in Anglo-Saxon, a Germanic language brought to Britain by Saxon invaders during the waning days of the Roman Empire. Like Latin (and many other languages in the Indo-European linguistic family), Anglo-Saxon had three words for human being or person: a neutral word, man or mon; a word for an adult male person, wer; and a word for an adult female person, wif. The latter two words could be used in combination with the first, yielding wer-man, “adult male person,” and wif-man, “adult female person.” […]

As Old English evolved through the Middle Ages into Modern English, the language kept its words for “female person.” Standing by itself, Old English’s wif became Modern English’s wife. Eroded by people’s tendency over time to slur difficult pronunciations, wif-man lost its f, becoming first wimman and finally the modern woman. Unfortunately, the words for “male person” did not do so well. Over the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, wer and wer-man dropped out of use and disappeared almost entirely. Man was sucked into the syntactical vacuum, developing a secondary meaning, “adult male person,” but retaining as its primary sense its original, generic meaning, i.e, “human being” or “person.”

The conspiracy-minded among us might think that the foregoing simply evades the question; that there is something sinister and sexist behind the demise of wer-man during the Middle Ages. […]


2 Maio 2008 - Posted by | Education, Language, Politics

1 comentario »

  1. That is interesting, but still no convincing argument that abandoning the wer(-man) into simply man is not in fact sexist. The wer-man and wif-man was more equal.
    Interesting to see why in other languages the same happened. I know only the case of French, Italian and Spanish, German and Dutch but I’m sure is more spread. Do you know books about that?
    In my language, Romanian, I am happy that we still have an equivalent for the latin vir: barbat (which comes from barba =beard) as opposed to om (homo). We still have a negative and positive denomination for woman: femeie (femina) and muiere (mulier).

    Comentario por Liana | 19 Novembro 2013

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