Watch your manguage

Posted by on November 03, 2010

We’d like to (re)introduce Stan Carey, the first in a series of guest bloggers who will be contributing to our blog for two weeks at a time until Christmas. The first of their posts will be on the subject of ‘Global English’ and the second will look at the ways that you (users) search our dictionary. Stan, a freelance writer and editor living in the west of Ireland, is not completely new to this blog: he has previously written a post here about the word smithereens. He also writes on his own blog, Sentence First. We’re excited to have him on board for two weeks!

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English has a rich history of so-called ‘man-words’: jocular terms that use man as a prefix or as part of a compound or blend (portmanteau, if you like). This formula has been very productive in recent years: the Urban Dictionary lists hundreds of man-words and man-phrases, such as man hug, man-girlfriend, man-tourage, and manbroidery. An initial m can be enough to manify a word – as in mandals, a contraction of man-sandals; mirdles, which are girdles for men; and Movember, a November-moustache charity event (though its m comes from moustache rather than man). There’s a related boom in bro-words, like bromance and bro-ordinate.

Man-words tend to be playful, if not downright daft, and they often imply an element of irony and self-deprecation. Man flu, for example, is a common cold whose male sufferer exaggerates the ailment. Many man-phrases serve as one-off gags or niche slang, but others attain quite a high profile. Man fur and mimbo were popularised by Seinfeld; mancation, a vacation for males only, spread swiftly after appearing in the Hollywood comedy The Break-Up; and mancession, an economic recession affecting men in particular, made headlines in the international press.

Some man-words denote commercial products aimed principally at metrosexual men. “Girl stuff, but for guys” is how Mark Peters described these man-brands and mancessories in an article tracing the history and usage of man-words. Nancy Friedman, who admits to “a bit of a mania for man-words”, has written about many of them on her blog Fritinancy. Manbags, manscara and mantyhose are unlikely to appeal to stereotypically manly men, but they point to a clear contemporary trend. What it signifies is open to interpretation – among other things, it might indicate male insecurity or a cultural shift in gender norms.

What do you think of this surge in man-guistic mannovation? Is it mantastic or mannoying? At least it’s not inherently prejudicial, since man is being used to refer not to people of both sexes, but to males or to something male-specific. Perhaps the worst you could say is that it’s silly, tiresome, or cynically commercial. Sometimes, of course, it’s just harmless wordplay, though it’s probably best not overdone (especially on a first man date). But be warned: the habit can be man-tagious.

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Comments (52)
  • […] a man-word like these explained here by Stan Carey on the MacMillan Dictionaries blog and makes use of the man- prefix that has become […]

    Posted by Oh man! | Tips Mobil on 13th February, 2015
  • […] and contributor to MacMillan Dictionaries excellent language blog, has written about Manguage here and it’s worth a read if you’re into new words or just fancy some tight-fitting […]

    Posted by And on the sixth day He made meggings | Tips Mobil on 13th February, 2015
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