From its earliest days, the English language used the word man to designate any or all of the human race and wer to describe a masculine person, as in the Latin vir and the English virile. The transition from Old English to Middle English during the eleventh century replaced wer with the homonym man. The Old English words for a feminine person, wyf and wyfman, were retained; wyfman became woman.
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary (11th ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press) defines a homonym as, “each of two or more words having the same spelling or pronunciation but different meanings and origins.” During the 800 years that the English language has had two different words, both spelled man, every English speaker has easily distinguished the two homonyms, man (all humans) and man (masculine person), as all homonyms are distinguished, by context. Yet today some women say they cannot distinguish between man and man.
The War of Words
During the twentieth century, and especially since the 1960s, the spiritual war between the forces of Rabbi Yeshua and the forces of Satan has become much more visible and tenaciously fought than in earlier times. Broadly, the forces of Rabbi Yeshua are represented by traditional Christians, particularly devout Catholics and Evangelicals but also other conservative Christians, who promote the traditional Christian teachings, such as that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman. And, broadly, the forces of Satan are represented by secular progressives who try to drive the traditional Christian teachings out of the public square and replace them with anti-Christian policies, such as that marriage can be between two men or two women.
A branch of this war has emerged with the secular progressives trying to make crucial changes in the English language that will lead to secular progressive ways of thinking. For example, devout Catholics and other conservative Christians are deeply opposed to allowing women to kill the children in their wombs, while secular progressives are strongly for allowing it. The traditional side uses pro-life to describe its own position, because it seeks to protect human life from conception to natural death, and describes the secular progressive position as pro-death. The secular progressives seek to direct our attention away from what is actually being done, the killing of a child, and instead onto the idea of choice, arguing that women have a right to choose.
Catholics are all for a woman’s right to choose as long as it means her right to choose between the schools her child will attend or between three hundred kinds of cheese at the supermarket, but deeply opposed if it means a right to choose whether to kill an innocent child. “You shall not kill” Deut 5:17. But the secular progressives try to call pro-abortion people pro-choice, and pro-life people anti-choice to direct our attention away from what is actually being done.
God and Man
God has always imaged Himself as masculine. “Our Father, who art in heaven …” Mt 6:9. He does this to represent male headship, to show us who he is and who we are. He is our Father, with authority over us, our Shepherd who protects us. The Son of God became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, visibly a man, protecting and guiding his human family. Rabbi Yeshua taught us, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” Mk 9:35. He did this even at the cost of His own life. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” Jn 10:10–11. And so it is with the human family. St. Paul told us, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands” Eph 5:22-24 This does not mean that the husband can do whatever he wants to his wife. It is exactly the opposite. Reflecting Rabbi Yeshua, Rabbi Paul tells us, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” Eph 5:25.
Secular progressives seek to undermine the relationship between God and man, and so they promote neutered and feminized language. Just as they use choice to conceal the idea of killing children in the womb, so they use neutered and feminized language to conceal the natural relationship between man and woman. They call it inclusive to conceal that neutered and feminized are exact descriptions of what they seek to do to the language by shifting our attention toward including everyone, “one flock, one shepherd” Jn 10:16 Reflecting this movement, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary notes in its definitions of man, “The generic use of man to refer to ‘human beings in general’ has become problematic in modern use; it is now widely regarded as old-fashioned or sexist. Alternative terms such as the human race or humankind may be used in some contexts, but elsewhere there are no established alternatives, for example for the term manpower or the verb man.”
However, the generic use of man is well accepted within the Catholic Church. The Vatican’s Norms for the Translation of Biblical Texts for Use in the Liturgy and Liturgiam authenticam make it clear that the traditional usages are required for use in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and other Catholic liturgies.
Use English to Defend
I strongly recommend defending the traditional language, and that all Catholics and other Christians defend it. However, some Christians try to use the original Biblical languages, Hebrew and Greek, in their defense. In defending traditional language, I recommend that most of us confine our discussions to the English language.
In Hebrew, God created the first man and called him adama, from the red clay of the earth in Mesopotamia (there is no female version since it was a name). In Hebrew, we are called sons of Adam or daughters of Adam. The masculine is ben adam, son of Adam. The feminine is bat adam, daughter of Adam. The plural for all men or men and women is bnei adam, sons of Adam, and, rarely used, for all women, bnot adam, daughters of Adam. The Hebrew word for humanity actually comes from Enoch (Hebrew: enosh), enoshoot. The Hebrew word for “a man” came into being with the Hebrew word isha, woman. “She shall be called Woman [isha]” Gen 2:23. Sometimes the appearance is deceptive, for we find, “And the man [adam] and his wife [isha] were both naked, and were not ashamed” Gen 2:25. We also find the masculine, “ Noah was a righteous man [ish]” Gen 6:9.
Similarly, some Christians try to argue that the Greek word anthropos means all mankind while the Greek word aner is a masculine person. The argument can be made for a distinction in the Biblical languages, but it is best done only by those who actually are fluent in Biblical Hebrew and Greek.