Man, signifying a ship
Posted: 17 June 2011 02:57 PM   [ Ignore ]
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In the age of sailing ships, man was used as part of several compound terms denoting types of ships, as in man-of-war, merchantman, and East/West Indiaman.  Actually, those are the only examples that come to mind at the moment.  Are there others, and is there any way to know why this usage came about?  Or if not why, then at least when?

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Posted: 18 June 2011 03:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Those appear to be the most common of the compounds, but it is not unusual to find the formation [location]-man. The OED has cites that include Jamaica man and Kentucky-man. (How land-locked Kentucky got a ship, I don’t know. It’s from 1788, so its not a reference to the modern state. Perhaps to a ship on the Kentucky River.)

The earliest cite in the OED is of Frenshemen (ships, not people) from 1473. It has men off warre from 1484.

It looks to me to be a pretty standard metaphorical anthropomorphizing of the ship.

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Posted: 26 June 2011 10:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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It may be “pretty standard metaphorical anthropomorphizing of the ship”, but aren’t ships generally female?

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Posted: 27 June 2011 12:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Of course - why else would sailors be so ready to get on board?

;-)

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Posted: 27 June 2011 12:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Smithers: “In my experience, women and seamen don’t mix.”

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Posted: 27 June 2011 03:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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What? You’re expecting consistency in language usage now?

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Posted: 05 July 2011 07:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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For what it is worth, God is called a “Man of War” in Exodus 15:3, so maybe that earliest citation is a biblical reference. Perhaps from there, “Merchant Man” (Man of Commerce doesn’t have the same ring) to distinguish from from warship, and then the usual free recombination of linguistic atoms occurs.

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