Here is a linguistic oddity that I’ve been aware of for some time. What is the opposite of “man”?
- Boy (because he’s immature)
- Woman (because she’s female)
- Machine (because it’s artificial)
- Beast (because it’s not rational)
- God (because he’s not mortal)
All equally valid answers, because a man is an adult male natural rational mortal.
I can’t think of any other word that carries such a weight of meaning (“Woman” isn’t so mired in different dimensions of meaning because of the historical accident than “man” has often stood in for mankind — or humankind, if you prefer.)
I’m not sure what to do with this observation, other than to wonder about the glut of “masculinity in crisis” articles — here are some randomly chosen examples in the Guardian, Independent and Telegraph. Could it be that they arise because people are confused about what they mean by being a man? Do we have men who worry that they need to be more male when what they really need is to be more mature, or more rational?