Siglo de Oro writer Mateo Alemán was Spanish, and politician Miguel Alemán rose to be president of Mexico, yet alemán in Spanish means ‘German,’ which is the translational truth, and closer to the etymological one as well. Spanish acquired alemán from Latin Alemannus, the singular of Alemanni, which was the Latinized version of the name by which the members of a certain Germanic tribe referred to themselves. With a flash of insight, all men and women who speak English, which is after all a Germanic language, may see that the ancient Alemanni called themselves straightforwardly ‘all men,’ where men had the general sense ‘people,’ as opposed to the narrower modern sense ‘male human beings.’ Similarly, the normandos/Normans are ‘north men,’ people who lived and still live in the north of what is now France, in the region therefore called Normandía/Normandy.

While we’re on the subject of man, we should note that English woman contains that word as its second element. Changes in pronunciation and spelling have obscured the first element, which in Old English was wīf, the forerunner of modern wife. Old English wīf meant ‘woman,’ so the wīfman that has become woman meant ‘person of the womanly kind.’ The fact that the first element in woman started out as wīf also explains why the first syllable in the plural women is pronounced wim, as if spelled with an i, because in fact it once was spelled with an i.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 19:31:40

    First, a side note. Back in the day, I had friends who insisted on spelling women as “wimmin” or “wimmen.” There even were “wimmins’ studies” courses, although most of the wimmin were sure the existence of such male concepts as “courses” was proof that the patriarchy remained intent on quashing the sisterhood. Etc. The ’70s and ’80s were something else.

    But that’s not what intrigued me. Your post brought to mind my square-dancing days, and the call, “allemande left.” I did some digging, and found this:

    1. The first movement of the classical suite, composed in a moderate tempo in a time signature of four-four
    2. Any of several German dances
    3. A figure in country dancing or square dancing by means of which couples change position in the set

    Ger. dance, 1775, from Fr. fem. of allemand “German” (see Alemanni).

    It’s interesting to compare the Regency Dancers’ performance of the Gallini Allemande Cotillion and this American square dance, which has the “allemande left” call a couple of times in the first twenty seconds. There are several patterns which exist in both. I had no idea there was a connection between the Baroque dance suite and square dancing, but clearly there is.

    And, since math seems to be everywhere these days, how about this? Fun stuff.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Aug 09, 2014 @ 21:40:16

      About your opening paragraph, my first reaction was “Oy vey.” I lived through that too, of course, and in certain circles it’s still the reigning orthodoxy all these years later.

      Imagine offering a college course on the mathematics of square dancing: more strangeness. With regard to language, allemande isn’t the only French term in square dancing. You may want to check out an old post entitled “Of backs, fins, checks, approval, square dancing, and portfolios.” It’s wonderful the way so many things are connected to so many other things.


  2. skmalyarzoi
    Aug 13, 2014 @ 13:59:12

    Almani also means German and Germanic in Arabic.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Aug 13, 2014 @ 15:12:56

      I didn’t know that. I wonder which language Arabic borrowed the word from. It was presumably from Latin or one of the Romance languages, perhaps Spanish because of the presence of the Arabs in Spain for hundreds of years.


  3. Trackback: Normandy | Spanish-English Word Connections

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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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