From man to maniquí

Probably the best-known lines in Alexander Pope’s famous “An Essay on Man,” published in 1734, are the ones that summarize the essay’s theme:

“Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of Mankind is Man.”

Yesterday in this column, which I hope you’ll concede is a proper study of etymology, we saw that the Germanic man appears in Spanish alemán as well as in normando/Norman and Normandía/Normandy. The French didn’t stop at Normandy but went on to borrow a Middle Dutch relative, the diminutive mennekijn ‘little man,’ as mannequin, which Spanish has further transformed to maniquí. English adopted French mannequin unchanged but also uses a modified version of the Dutch original, man(n)ikin. Regardless of spelling, there’s irony in the fact that the mannequins who, wraithlike, haunt the world of fashion modeling, and who are typically tall and slender women, should be described by a word that originally meant ‘little man.’ In a different line of development, Old High German mennisco, which corresponds to English man-ish, became Yiddish mensch, which has passed into English with the sense ‘a decent, responsible man; one who behaves as people expect a man to.’

©2010 Steven Schwartzman

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If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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