Learn English – Were the words “woman” and “female” produced after the words “man” and “male”?


Man and woman, male and female have the same phonetic element and root (man, and male) in English, while man and woman in both Japanese and Chinese language – Otoko (男) and Onnna (女) in Japanese, Nan (男) and Njui (女) in Chinese – don’t have the common phonetic elements as woman and female in English, and are totally different in characters. This means, the word 男 and 女 were produced concurrently, or separately, not in tandem.

I wonder if the words woman and female were produced after the words man and male were invented by old Germans (or Anglo-Saxons) sequentially as in the way Eve was produced from one of Adam’s ribs by the God. – As a reminder, I’ve never been sexist.

This may look a naive question to most of native English speakers, but is basic to me as a non-native speaker.

What do “wo” and “fe” in the words ‘woman’ and ‘female’ represent? Can I see them as prefixes to mean opposite sex to man and male, though I've never seen them being used as a prefix in other words than woman and female?

Best Answer

Whilst this is half correct in regards to the word 'woman' coming about after the word 'man', it is slightly incorrect about the etymology of the terms.

The term 'woman' does come from the Old English 'wifman', as 'man' was used to refer to humans of all genders; men were referred to as 'wermen' - hence the term 'werewolf' (man wolf).[1][2]

As for 'male' and 'female', 'female' was later remodeled around the word 'male', so again this isn't entirely (or even mostly) wrong, but it prior to this there wasn't a shared etymological root; 'male' came from the old French 'malle', which itself came from a diminutive of the Latin 'Masculus'; whereas 'female' came from the Old French 'Femele', which came from the diminutive of the Latin 'Femina'.[3][4]