The rune is recorded in all three rune poems, in the Norwegian and Icelandic poems as maðr, and in the Anglo-Saxon poem as man. As its sound value and form in the Elder Futhark indicate, it is derived from the Greek letter Mu.
|Rune Poem:||English Translation:|
| Old Norwegian
Maðr er moldar auki;
mikil er græip á hauki.
Man is an augmentation of the dust;
great is the claw of the hawk.
| Old Icelandic
Maðr er manns gaman
ok moldar auki
ok skipa skreytir.
Man is delight of man
and augmentation of the earth
and adorner of ships.
Man byþ on myrgþe his magan leof:
sceal þeah anra gehwylc oðrum swican,
forðum drihten wyle dome sine
þæt earme flæsc eorþan betæcan.
The joyous man is dear to his kinsmen;
yet every man is doomed to fail his fellow,
since the Lord by his decree will commit the vile carrion to the earth.
It is derived from a Proto-Indo-European base *man-, with a variant *mon- (cf. Sanskrit/Avestan manu-, Russian muzh "man, male"). Some etymologies treat the root as an independent one, as does the American Heritage Dictionary. *Manus in Indo-European mythology was the first man, see Mannus, Manu (Hinduism)
Of the etymologies that do make connections with other Indo-European roots, man "the thinker" is the most traditional — that is, the word is connected with the root *men- "to think" (cognate to mind). This etymology presumes that man is the one who thinks, which fits the definition of man given by René Descartes as a "rational animal", indebted to Aristotle's ζώον λόγoν ἒχων, which is also the basis for Homo sapiens (see Human self-reflection). This etymology is however not generally accepted. In Finnish, which is not a Germanic language, there is a possible analogy of this etymology. In Finnish, "human" is "ihminen", which means somebody that is wondering.
A second etymology postulates the reduction of the ancestor of "human" to the ancestor of "man". Human is from *dhghem-, "earth". *(dh)ghom-on- is some sort of “earthling” . The word would reduce to just its final syllable, *m-on-. You may find this point of view in Eric Partridge, Origins, under man. Such a derivation might be credible if we had only the Germanic form (also note that Tuisto, father of Mannus, is the god who sprang from the earth), but the attested Indo-Iranian manu virtually excludes the possibility.
Restricted use of man in the sense "adult male" only began to occur in late Old English, around the 11th century, and the word formerly expressing male sex, wer had died out by AD 1300 (but survives in e.g. were-ald, were-wolf and were-gild). The original sense of the word is preserved in words such as mankind, from Old English mancynn.
In the twentieth century, the generic meaning of "man" declined still further (but survives in compounds "mankind", "everyman", "no-man", etc), and is now mostly seen as archaic, with the word used almost exclusively to mean "adult male". Interestingly, exactly the same thing has happened to the Latin word homo: in most Romance languages, homme, uomo, hombre, homem have come to refer mainly to males, with residual generic meaning.
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