Fun fact I learned today


Vort
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I had learned that the Old English word man (or mann. as modern German has it) meant "person" or "human being", not specifically an adult male human. To specify an adult female, the prefix wif- would be added on, creating the word wifman—whence we derive both the modern words "woman" and "wife". But man alone usually referred to a person, not necessarily a man. (Note that wifman was grammatically neuter, but all pronouns referring back to the aforementioned wifman were inevitably gendered female.)

All of the above appears to be perfectly true, though with the obvious caveat that I'm sure there were times when man was understood to mean an adult male, not merely a person. I expect it was heavily context-dependent.

So here's the part I learned this morning:

The counterpart to a wifman—that is, an adult male—would be a werman. The prefix wer- comes directly from the Latin vir, meaning "man" (male person, as opposed to a femina or female person). Note that in classical Latin pronunciation, such as would have been spoken in camp during the time of the Roman Empire, the word vir, more appropriately spelled in modern times as uir, would have been pronounced something like "weer" with a rolled or trilled R. (As in Latin, all Rs in Old English and Middle English were rolled or trilled, unlike the larger Germanic practice of using the gutteral R.) So for English to use wer- as a prefix meaning "male" makes perfect sense. Therefore, werman was the Old English way of saying "man" in the sense of an adult male.

Everyone* knows this. Just one problem. It isn't true.

*In this context, "everyone" means "everyone who cares enough about such things to have done a bit of reading, but who doesn't actually know enough to know it's untrue."

It appears that the term werman is nowhere attested in the OE literature. The actual term used to distinguish an adult male was wæpnedman, literally "weaponed man", where wæpned was commonly used figuratively to mean "penis".

The word wer was indeed sometimes used, in this case not as a prefix but as a standalone term, to mean man (male person). But wæpnedman appears to have been the word of choice to identify an adult male, and werman looks to have been made up, perhaps by some overenthusiastic OE grad student as a seemingly logical explanation of how things must have been.

How about that?

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6 minutes ago, Vort said:

I had learned that the Old English word man (or mann. as modern German has it) meant "person" or "human being", not specifically an adult male human. To specify an adult female, the prefix wif- would be added on, creating the word wifman—whence we derive both the modern words "woman" and "wife". But man alone usually referred to a person, not necessarily a man. (Note that wifman was grammatically neuter, but all pronouns referring back to the aforementioned wifman were inevitably gendered female.)

All of the above appears to be perfectly true, though with the obvious caveat that I'm sure there were times when man was understood to mean an adult male, not merely a person. I expect it was heavily context-dependent.

So here's the part I learned this morning:

The counterpart to a wifman—that is, an adult male—would be a werman. The prefix wer- comes directly from the Latin vir, meaning "man" (male person, as opposed to a femina or female person). Note that in classical Latin pronunciation, such as would have been spoken in camp during the time of the Roman Empire, the word vir, more appropriately spelled in modern times as uir, would have been pronounced something like "weer" with a rolled or trilled R. (As in Latin, all Rs in Old English and Middle English were rolled or trilled, unlike the larger Germanic practice of using the gutteral R.) So for English to use wer- as a prefix meaning "male" makes perfect sense. Therefore, werman was the Old English way of saying "man" in the sense of an adult male.

Everyone* knows this. Just one problem. It isn't true.

*In this context, "everyone" means "everyone who cares enough about such things to have done a bit of reading, but who doesn't actually know enough to know it's untrue."

It appears that the term werman is nowhere attested in the OE literature. The actual term used to distinguish an adult male was wæpnedman, literally "weaponed man", where wæpned was commonly used figuratively to mean "penis".

The word wer was indeed sometimes used, in this case not as a prefix but as a standalone term, to mean man (male person). But wæpnedman appears to have been the word of choice to identify an adult male, and werman looks to have been made up, perhaps by some overenthusiastic OE grad student as a seemingly logical explanation of how things must have been.

How about that?

Yup.  It goes a little further than that.

Wer >> Were + wolf = werewolf (man-wolf)

Wer >> Vir >> Virility (sexual as well as other types of energy related topics.  Goes to penis/penile).

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3 hours ago, Carborendum said:

Yup.  It goes a little further than that.

Wer >> Were + wolf = werewolf (man-wolf)

Wer >> Vir >> Virility (sexual as well as other types of energy related topics.  Goes to penis/penile).

True enough, but I suspect you may have missed what my big realization was this morning. It wasn't that "wer-" = vir; it was that the supposed word werman was not the normal OE term used to name adult men, and may not have been a standard word at all in Old English. The term for "man" (as in an adult male) was wæpnedman, not werman.

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18 hours ago, Vort said:

I had learned that the Old English word man (or mann. as modern German has it) meant "person" or "human being", not specifically an adult male human. To specify an adult female, the prefix wif- would be added on, creating the word wifman—whence we derive both the modern words "woman" and "wife". But man alone usually referred to a person, not necessarily a man. (Note that wifman was grammatically neuter, but all pronouns referring back to the aforementioned wifman were inevitably gendered female.)

All of the above appears to be perfectly true, though with the obvious caveat that I'm sure there were times when man was understood to mean an adult male, not merely a person. I expect it was heavily context-dependent.

So here's the part I learned this morning:

The counterpart to a wifman—that is, an adult male—would be a werman. The prefix wer- comes directly from the Latin vir, meaning "man" (male person, as opposed to a femina or female person). Note that in classical Latin pronunciation, such as would have been spoken in camp during the time of the Roman Empire, the word vir, more appropriately spelled in modern times as uir, would have been pronounced something like "weer" with a rolled or trilled R. (As in Latin, all Rs in Old English and Middle English were rolled or trilled, unlike the larger Germanic practice of using the gutteral R.) So for English to use wer- as a prefix meaning "male" makes perfect sense. Therefore, werman was the Old English way of saying "man" in the sense of an adult male.

Everyone* knows this. Just one problem. It isn't true.

*In this context, "everyone" means "everyone who cares enough about such things to have done a bit of reading, but who doesn't actually know enough to know it's untrue."

It appears that the term werman is nowhere attested in the OE literature. The actual term used to distinguish an adult male was wæpnedman, literally "weaponed man", where wæpned was commonly used figuratively to mean "penis".

The word wer was indeed sometimes used, in this case not as a prefix but as a standalone term, to mean man (male person). But wæpnedman appears to have been the word of choice to identify an adult male, and werman looks to have been made up, perhaps by some overenthusiastic OE grad student as a seemingly logical explanation of how things must have been.

How about that?

It occurred to me around the age of 10 that "woman" must be short for "womb man" - a man with a womb. I remember the moment of realization - I was sitting in the back of my parents' car in Leicester heading up London Road, just passing the railway station. The idea that woman="womb man" always conjures up the mental image of Leicester Station.

Image result for leicester station

It was only in the last couple of years I found out this wasn't true. It seemed so obviously true that it had to be true. Life is like that: many things that are "obviously true" are not true at all.

Other such things:

  • The sun and moon have a larger angular diameter when they are close to the horizon (they don't - it's an optical illusion).
  • If you went into space you'd see stars everywhere because there's no "blue sky" to get in the way. (You would only see stars if you were on the night side of the Earth, or if you shielded your eyes from sunlight.)
  • Sherlock Holmes always said "Elementary, my dear Watson!" (He never said it even once.)
  • If you exposed your body to a vacuum, you would explode. (I don't actually know much about this, but I've read that "explosive decompression" is a myth. Perhaps what I've read is wrong - anyone know?)
  • Julius Caesar was a Roman Emperor. (No he wasn't.)
  • King Tut's tomb is right next to the Sphinx. (It's nowhere near the Sphinx.)
  • Galileo was beheaded by the Pope for saying the Earth went round the Sun. (No he wasn't.)
  • Mary Queen of Scots was a Scottish woman, and spoke with a Scottish accent and said "hoots mon" before eating her Cadbury's Cream Egg (if you remember the advert). (She was born in Scotland, but before becoming queen she lived mostly in France, and I doubt she ever said "hoots mon" once.)
  • Thought of one more: "Checkpoint Charlie" was on the border between East and West Germany. (No it wasn't - it was on the border between East and West Berlin.  Berlin - East AND West - was entirely within East Germany.)
  • Yet another: If you were born in the UK, you have an automatic right to British citizenship. Actually no - for your nationality to be automatic you would have to have at least one British parent. Otherwise, despite your nativity, you would need to make some other case for citizenship - like that you had lived here continuously for a certain minimum number of years.
Edited by Jamie123
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