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