Mankind in the unmaking

1 minute read

Annalee Newitz gives a worthwhile etymological lesson: “Think twice before using mankind to mean all humanity, say scholars”.

In modern English, man is used very infrequently as an autohyponym. Possibly that's because it's become too confusing to use "man" it's hard to know what it means in any given context when we have no word like wpenmann that refers exclusively to males. But we do have the words "person" and "human" that clearly refer to both sexes, so those have eclipsed "man" when speaking about everyone.

More at the link. “Mankind” used to be very common in paleoanthropology, most notably in the title of W.W. Howells’ Mankind in the Making: The Story of Human Evolution, last published in 1967. Howells cribbed his title from H. G. Wells, whose own Mankind in the Making came out in 1909. It’s available for free on the Kindle, or from Project Gutenberg in multiple formats. A name with a long pedigree, that we simply don’t use anymore. Star Trek was a few years behind science when it gave up the “no man has gone before”.

I guess that popular culture is usually recycling the science of a decade ago. We’ve just gotten to where popular culture treatments of human evolution suffer through a volcanic winter, and where Neandertals are extinct. Guess that makes a fertile ground for rewriting over the next decade!