anghara (anghara) wrote,

Still working (Words Were Committed) but...

I just thought that this, from my favourte Usenet group, was worth disseminating:

As most here probably know, English
originally had "mann" for "person" and "wer" for "male person".
The latter survives only in "wergild," "werewolf," and (as Brian
pointed out) the heavily-changed "world".

Which is why there's that neat linguistic joke in _The Lord of
the Rings,_ where the head Nazgul is fated not to be killed by
the hand of man. He is therefore killed by Eowyn (a human, but
not a male) and Meriadoc (a male, but not a human _strictu sensu_)

As I put it a while back:

The word "man" in English has been made to stand in for what were
originally two words: _mann_ meaning "a man, as distinguished from
an animal, demon, or god" (compare Latin _homo_, Greek _anthropos_),
and _wer_ meaning "a man, as distinguished from a woman or a child"
(Latin _vir_, Greek _aner, andros_).

If Eowyn and the Witch-King had been pedants like the herb-master
of Minas Tirith, the dialogue might have gone more like this:

"You fool, no living man may harm me."

"_Distinguo_, Sir, I am not _vir_ but _femina._ Prepare to die."

"Excuse me, your Westron is so imprecise. I did not mean _vir_, I
meant _homo_."

"Ah, point taken! In that case, permit me to point out that
Meriadoc, who is not _homo_ but _dimidiulus,_ a Halfling, has
just introduced an Arnorian blade into your knee."

(You just have to go to rasfc for the full exchange...)

Back to work now.

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