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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?

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closed as general reference by RegDwigнt Aug 2 '12 at 22:32

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Woman used to be wifman, a combination of wif, meaning "woman" (whence wife), and man in the meaning "human being". Female, on the other hand, comes from Latin femella (compare feminine) and is not related to male which comes from Latin masculus (whence masculine, macho). In other words, no, wo- is not a productive prefix in contemporary English, and fe- was never a prefix to begin with, whether in English or in Latin. You can look such things up on the great site that is Etymonline. –  RegDwigнt Aug 2 '12 at 21:46
    
I respect this forum because it treats both native English speakers and non-native speakers equally. I said this is a basic question to me, and you say this is ‘too basic’ to you native speakers. But I wonder how “too” basic this question is. Are 98 % of all Americans familiar with the origin of the word, woman and female? Of course, I could get answer from etymology specialist sites. But why should I bother to do it, when it could be faster and more efficient to get answers from knowledgeable EL&U veterans like you, tripping around and inputting ‘man’, ‘woman’ ‘male’ and ‘female’ each time? –  Yoichi Oishi Aug 3 '12 at 0:09
    
Besides, I wonder why I had instantaneous 2 up-votes to ‘too basic’ question immediate after posting it. Are they silly? And why do we have etymology section in this site? –  Yoichi Oishi Aug 3 '12 at 0:21
    
(Continued) Particularly when the question about the origin of the similar word such as 'mother’ ‘Oh, brother’ and ‘elder’ that I see on the related question list are accepted? Why don’t you close these questions by telling poster to look for etymology specialist blog? –  Yoichi Oishi Aug 3 '12 at 1:32

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

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]

Sources

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman#Etymology

[2]http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=werewolf

[3]http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=male

[4]http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=female

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1  
+1 for the research, but the idea is to answer the question, rather than reply to a comment without making it clear that is what you are doing. –  TimLymington Aug 2 '12 at 22:33

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