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!


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.

Email this Post Email this Post
Comments (52)
  • Good to see Stan writing here as his blog is a very good read :-)

    Mantyhose is genius, but what about the horrific mankini as sported by Borat? And we mustn’t forget moobs, or to give them their technical label manmary glands.

    I like the fact that masculinity is being ironically mocked by these words, but I’m sure some retrosexualists like Clarkson or Littlejohn will see it as a foul feminist attack on male dignity.

    Posted by dan on 3rd November, 2010
  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by BJ Muntain, Mark Allen, Stan Carey, Catherine Minick, Katherine C. James and others. Katherine C. James said: RT @StanCarey: Watch your manguage: a short piece I wrote for @MacDictionary about 'man-words': […]

    Posted by Tweets that mention Watch your manguage | Macmillan -- on 3rd November, 2010
  • Dan: Thanks very much. Mankini and moobs featured in an early draft, but I gave them the heave-bro as an act of mercy. How well Borat knew that some things cannot be unseen. There’s a remarkable number of synonyms for moobs: it’s almost worth a post in its own right.

    I like the word retrosexualists! It deserves to spread.

    Posted by Stan on 3rd November, 2010
  • Mangnificent stuff, Stan. One i like is the newish phrasal verb ‘man up’ (meaning something like ‘be a man’), as in this from a report on yesterday’s US election:
    ‘Democrat Senate majority leader Harry Reid was told to “man up” by Mama Grizzly Sharron Angle, his Republican rival in Nevada, and it is a phrase now adopted by Sarah Palin in shooting down her male critics.’
    Interesting that this verb has fallen into the hands of right-wing white women, when i’m pretty sure it was originally used by African-American men.

    Posted by Michael Rundell on 3rd November, 2010
  • Thank you, Michael. I’d like to have included ‘man up’ in the article, but I decided against it for reasons of space. I hoped it would arise in the comments, so I’m glad you brought it up. As you note, it has recently taken some very public leaps into political discussion. Ben Zimmer has written a couple of interesting articles about its history and usage, and he mentions some amusing variations, such as ‘cowboy up’ and ‘nut up’!

    Posted by Stan on 3rd November, 2010
  • Maneloquent post, Stan. I enjoyed it very much; to use a man-idiom, you’re a man after my own heart.

    Posted by Tom Guadagno on 3rd November, 2010
  • Thanks, Tom. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    Posted by Stan on 4th November, 2010
  • […] the man-wagon, I’ve written a short piece about them for the Macmillan Dictionary Blog, called ‘Watch your manguage’. Here’s an excerpt: the Urban Dictionary lists hundreds of man-words and man-phrases, such as […]

    Posted by Cometh the hour, cometh the man-word « Sentence first on 4th November, 2010
  • Posted by Paolo on 4th November, 2010
  • Thanks for the laugh, Paolo! It’s a joke someone had to make, and I’m glad they did.

    Posted by Stan on 4th November, 2010
  • Would a manecdote be a long story that one has heard before…? Nice piece, Stan. I think Ambrose Bierce would have enjoyed the man words.

    Posted by mise on 5th November, 2010
  • And then there’s also ‘manny’ – which has mildly sarcastic overtones of “a man in a job which ought to be done by a woman” – ouch!

    Thanks for the article Stan – mantastic!

    Posted by Kerry on 5th November, 2010
  • Mise: Thank you. A manecdote, apparently, is “a story that emphasizes one’s manliness”. Demand one from Scottish Husband.

    Kerry: My pleasure, and thank you for the link! I’d come across manny elsewhere, but I missed that entry somehow. Very helpful.

    Posted by Stan on 5th November, 2010
  • Ecce, menorrhea!
    Who would have manticipated that?
    One giant leap for emancipation.

    Posted by Sean Jeating on 6th November, 2010
  • The manful, manly man-made hillarious article manhandled the stream of my thoughts into the mankind manor to manure the soil of manguage with manu and manuscript manding that the way to man’s heart lies through his stomache otherwise the mangoes… I hope I manage not to be manlike manifesting the manstream of my mandeas or mandness:-).

    Posted by Regina on 7th November, 2010
  • Sean: It wasn’t manticipated by just manyone, that’s for sure. Emancipation or monstipation: that is the confesstion.

    Regina: Wonderful! The ‘manstream of your mandeas’ manscends the mender of gender and spins on the wind of extending this mansense (in the best sense).

    Posted by Stan on 7th November, 2010
  • Really? Not one mention of mangerines in all of this?

    Posted by David King on 9th November, 2010
  • I really enjoyed the post! I think my male students (in my university we have only a few bouys) would be happy to read it and would look at me and say :See?
    i will give it to them to read.
    And to Mr. are noticing all the new words in the world?)))that’s why we have good dictionaries!

    Posted by AllaSobirova on 9th November, 2010
  • David: For reasons of space and sanity, I was unable to mention every man-word. Thank you for contributing mangerines.

    Alla: I’m very glad you enjoyed the post, and I’d be delighted if you showed it to your students! Maybe the discussion will generate some new terms (man-words or otherwise).

    Posted by Stan on 10th November, 2010
  • another great read Stan, keep them coming.

    Posted by ollie walsh on 10th November, 2010
  • Thanks, Ollie – will do!

    Posted by Stan on 11th November, 2010
  • Great stuff Stan, love your blog and delighted to have access to you through Macmillan! I’ve learned more about language from you than all my years in academia! Keep it up.

    Posted by Helen Mortimer on 11th November, 2010
  • Helen: You’re too kind! Thanks for reading.

    Posted by Stan on 12th November, 2010
  • Enjoyed your piece Stan and as an English teacher find your blog extremely insightful and useful. Keep up the good work :-)

    Posted by Georgina Capone on 12th November, 2010
  • A great read Stan, entertaining and insightful. Well done.

    Posted by Claire Forrestal on 12th November, 2010
  • Georgina: Thank you – I’ll do my best. I feel indirectly responsible for your students now…

    Claire: Thanks very much; I appreciate your visit and kind words.

    Posted by Stan on 13th November, 2010
  • Great stuff Stan , I like the angle you approach things from , as for man words “mollox”!

    Posted by Taig Cunnane on 15th November, 2010
  • Thanks, Taig. Mollox is a new one to me! It might even catch on if it didn’t sound so much like a marine invertebrate.

    Posted by Stan on 16th November, 2010
  • adding ‘man/m’ to create words related to men just makes it clear that certain words are meant to refer to the female gender to begin with! A sad state of affairs eh? Take ‘manscara’, if we (society – and all that it means) didn’t assume (insist – thru threat of rejection) that only women wear it there’d be no need to adapt it! We ‘automatically use millions of ‘assumption’ words every day, that just serve to perpetuate the situation and make it all seem ‘natural’ + ‘normal’ – like it fell down from a god or somewhere!!!
    WE, when we use words, without thinking about them and their self perpetuatin myths, actually continue the situation.
    Funny how it doesn’t apply the reverse tho! ‘Femalizing’ words tends to add a neggative aspect to the concept/meaning! Even names become ‘effeminate, therefore ‘innappropriate’ for men! Take leslie, was once a male name, not anymore – to be called that is seen as negative.Millions of examples of this!
    Think about it, there’s no real reason why the word ‘pantyhose’ can’t be for men too? None except that people, stuck in ruts of word use and gender traps would just laugh! So to make a word usually refering to women ok, it has to be adapted to make it manly enough!
    Hardly feminists inventing them eh?
    Think about it beyond the ‘ha ha, isn’t that funny’ level – why is it funny?
    But I gotta say i can relate to stuff like ' man flu' etc, they do go on when they cant cope don't they!

    Posted by rose on 17th November, 2010
  • I agree with Rose’s point that speakers may lazily (and wrongly) assume that some words are inherently restricted to either male or female reference. People used to talk about ‘male nurses’ and even ‘lady doctors’, as if these roles ‘belonged’ to one gender or another. Fortunately you don’t often hear these expressions now: a nurse is a nurse and a doctor is a doctor. But I’m less convinced that it is sexist to assume that words like mascara, pantyhose and handbag have mainly female associations – surely it’s just a fact of life that they do (at present anyway – that could change)? Also, unlike Rose, I didn’t get the impression from Stan’s original post that adding the man- prefix was a way of ‘making a word that usually refers to women OK’ or making it sound ‘manly enough’ – pretty much the opposite in fact: most of these man- words seem designed to ridicule men. As Dan commented earlier: ‘ I like the fact that masculinity is being ironically mocked by these words’.

    Posted by Michael Rundell on 17th November, 2010
  • Thanks for your comment, Rose. You make a good point about gender-crossing names like Leslie. Shirley, too, was once a popular boy’s name, as were Beverly and Evelyn. Much less so, now! As Casey Miller and Kate Swift put it, in Words and Women: Language and the sexes, “once a name . . . becomes associated with women, it is rarely again considered suitable for men”.

    Some words are associated with one gender more than the other to reflect natural distinctions, such as those based on anatomy or (non-sexist) cultural practices, and I see nothing wrong with this. It doesn’t imply a value judgement or hierarchical relation. Terms that do, like lady doctor and male nurse, to borrow Michael’s examples, are (I hope) well on their way to obsolescence.

    But my post was about man-words, and I would agree with Michael that they aren’t about making words more manly. On the contrary: if anything, they poke fun at men, or at stereotypical ideas of masculinity – and maybe also at language itself, especially the playful practice of wanton nonce-formation. Man-words are laced not with chauvinism but with irony and self-mockery.

    Posted by Stan on 17th November, 2010
  • Happy to see you here! I am your fan on twitter and love your tips! Really a great news! Have a nice day.

    Posted by Marcia Regina on 19th November, 2010
  • Thank you very much, Marcia. Have a good week.

    Posted by Stan on 22nd November, 2010
  • […] By English Trackers Blogger, on March 4th, 2011 I read a blog post this week which highlighted a linguistic trend that I hadn’t really considered before – […]

    Posted by Manguage! | English Editing Blog on 4th March, 2011
  • A fairly new addition to the stable of man(ly) words is ‘manther’, a blend of ‘man’ and ‘panther’ – the male version of the ‘cougar’. So a ‘manther’ is an older man who spends most of his time chasing younger women. According to one website, “George Clooney is a manther not, and seems to know how to treat a lady.” The same website also claims that “Celebrity manthers are few and far between and … they are often mocked, both publicly and privately for their unabashed foolishness and hopelessness.” Now, that’s a reference anybody who’s seen ‘Something’s Gotta Give’ will get for sure :-)

    Posted by Kati on 18th March, 2011
  • That’s a good one, Kati! Thanks for adding it here. I suppose a manther is likely to be found in almost any populated habitat, but your description brings Hollywood especially to mind.
    A friend introduced me to another man-word yesterday, one he had heard on television: hebro, a Jewish bro, where bro = brother in the sense “close friend”. There are a few definitions at the Urban Dictionary.

    Posted by Stan on 18th March, 2011
  • Mancation – Only men with no wives or no girlfriends allowed, spending time in sports activities such as golf, camping, gambling . That’s a combo between man and vacation Other definitions are at Urban Dictionary

    Posted by Marcia Regina Cardoso on 18th March, 2011
  • Here in the states, we use “man cave,” referring to the kind of squalid apartment occupied by university students.

    Posted by Ben Trawick-Smith on 18th March, 2011
  • Marcia: Thank you. Yes, the Urban Dictionary lists hundreds of man-words, many of them one-off inventions. I mentioned mancation in my post; apparently it was popularised by the film The Break-Up, which I haven’t seen.

    Ben: That’s one I’ve encountered in some online articles, though to me it doesn’t carry automatic connotations of squalor or studentness: sanctuary is more what it’s about. Also, there appears to be a female equivalent, the “she cave”!

    Posted by Stan on 18th March, 2011
  • You’re quite right, Stan. Perhaps a bit of sexism on my part that I automatically associated a space occupied by a man with squalor and filth!

    Posted by Ben Trawick-Smith on 18th March, 2011
  • Don’t miss out on the murses (male purse), although they seem to be out of fashion already.

    Posted by Anne Marie Koper on 18th March, 2011
  • Anne Marie: Thank you. I can’t keep up with either the fashion or the lingo! But a murse would be handy for carrying manscara.

    Posted by Stan on 18th March, 2011
  • Let’s not forget about ‘manslation’, which apparently is the translation of what women say into something men understand.

    Posted by Kati Sule on 26th May, 2011
  • Thank, Kati! It’s a good one to add to the list. Apparently there’s a book called Manslations that’s about interpreting what men say, so I guess the word could work either way. A friend suggests it could also mean translating text and, in so doing, making it chauvinist or man-centric.

    Posted by Stan on 27th May, 2011
  • Recently heard another one, Stan (this is from Erin McKean of Wordnik): ‘mansplaining’, which what (some) men do when they’re explaining something to a woman in a condescending way. Lots of nice examples in Wordnik.

    Posted by Michael Rundell on 25th November, 2011
  • Thanks, Michael. Mansplain is one of the more useful man-words, I think. It popped up in the comments of my post about this post.

    Posted by Stan on 25th November, 2011
  • Posted by Anne Marie Koper on 13th March, 2012
  • Thanks, Anne Marie: I’ll add it to this week’s roundup

    Posted by Liz Potter on 14th March, 2012
  • Anne Marie, Liz: Guylashes and guylons made me raise an amused guybrow, but I won’t be adopting them for my wardrobe.

    Posted by Stan on 14th March, 2012
  • […] of them at all).  Is it sexist to create a portmanteau with man- at all (some interesting examples here)?  Or is it that the behavior described is one that is itself […]

    Posted by Q&A: is “mansplain” sexist? | go ahead, mac my day on 17th May, 2012
  • […] 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
Leave a Comment
* Required Fields