5

I don't know how to define the usage of man I'm talking about*, so I'll do it with examples:

Hey, man, what's up?

C'mon, man, don't make me do this.

Is there a female or gender-neutral alternative for this word or is this sort of talk restricted to men only?

Is "man" in the examples a normal noun or is it a different grammatical phenomenon, maybe an interjection of sorts?

  • 1
    Arguably use of man can be divided into interjectional ("Man, that was a crappy movie!") and vocative ("Hey, man, what's up?"), but I'm not convinced the line can always be clearly drawn between the two. (Speakers may differ on which uses they consider gender-neutral.) – snailcar Oct 25 '13 at 18:08
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    I began to notice that shop clerks sometimes referred to me as "boss". This irritated me to no end until one addressed me a "Holmes". But these are simply colloquialisms, and they drift in and out of usage easily and often. – Canis Lupus Oct 25 '13 at 19:35
  • If "Holmes" was in a young American urban context, it very likely was actually Homes, from homie, from home-boy. – Grunthos Jun 5 '14 at 14:38
3

In many contexts, you can use there instead of man:

Hey there, what's up?
C'mon there, don't make me do this.

If you're familiar with the addressee and use a friendly or jocular tone, you can often use you in place of man:

Hey you, what's up?

However, it may sound brusque in other contexts, and I wouldn't recommend it with strangers:

C'mon you, don't make me do this.

If addressing a group, you can use folks (if you don't mind sounding a bit folksy):

Hey folks, what's up?
C'mon folks, don't make me do this.

2

Y'all and guys both work

Hey y'all, what's up?

C'mon, guys, don't make me do this.

I love y'all but I gotta get home.

Listen up, y'all!

Guys can be used for both sexes, if you don't believe me then read this 90+ answer by Caleb here on ELU.

  • 3
    Problem is, "y'all" is pretty clearly plural (at least in my neck of the woods), while "man" is strictly singular (at least in those usages where it's a noun, not an interjection). Ditto for "guys". – Marthaª Oct 25 '13 at 22:50
  • Although as Marthaª points out guys doesn't fit the question exactly, these are pretty good suggestions. Y'all does work; for some speakers it can be singular. – snailcar Oct 25 '13 at 23:14
  • @Marthaª why does the interjection have to be singular? The OP asked for a neutral, genderless equivalent. Y'all can be said to women and men. And in Breaking Bad I've definitely heard it being used in the singular. – Mari-Lou A Oct 25 '13 at 23:34
  • You could potentially just say "Hey, you" -- that's not terribly common but you'll hear it sometimes. Guys is not always considered gender-neutral. – starwed Oct 31 '13 at 16:23
1

I would say that friend, pal, or mate are used like that and seem pretty neutral to me.

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    ‘Pal’ and ‘mate’ both immediately make me think the person being addressed is male. I would never say, “Hey pal!” to a girl. I might say, “Hey girl!” to her, though. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 25 '13 at 18:01
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    @JanusBahsJacquet - the term mate has a huge geographical variance. In certain parts of the US I would agree with you. If I am in Canada or northern US I would be able to say it to a girl. I have personally used pal to describe a girl. Girls use pal to describe their girl friends. Friend is probably the best term but the other two can be used too depending on location. – RyeɃreḁd Oct 25 '13 at 18:11
  • @JanusBahsJacquet what then of classmate, and pen-pal? They are undoubtedly genderless. I have used both best mate and pals (albeit the latter when I was a child) to describe relationships with my (girl)friends. – Mari-Lou A Oct 25 '13 at 21:12
  • @Mari-LouA, we are specifically talking about when the words are used as vocatives (and non-compounded). I have no problem describing a girl as my mate or pal (though I rarely use the latter word), but I would not address her as “Hey mate!”. (I also wouldn’t address her as “Hey girl!” if she is British—I would only say that in American English) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 25 '13 at 21:15
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    @Mari-LouA, but that’s the whole point. I would only use ‘pal’ or ‘mate’ in those phrases to male friends, never female ones, just like I wouldn’t use ‘man’ in them to female friends either. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 25 '13 at 21:24
1

There is a precedent set in Newcastle upon Tyne, where "man" is regularly used, when addressing a male, e.g. "Are yuz gannin oot the neet, man?" (are you going out tonight, my friend?).

In addition, "pet" is often used as an affectionate means of addressing a female. Thus, one might ask "Are yuz gannin oot the neet, pet?" but in order to make that more gender-neutral, and less like "babe" or "hun", one might add "man" to the end, as in "Are yuz gannin oot the neet, pet, man?"

In extreme circumstances, a Geordie (for such is the term for a native of said city) might have already used the word "man" at the end of a sentence, due to it being an oft-used phrase, and so will add "pet" to the end of the sentence to acknowledge to the female that he is aware that he is talking to a female, but will further append another "man" to make the term "pet" seem less like a term of endearment. Hence, you can genuinely hear people say "Are yuz gannin oot the neet, man, pet, man?"

  • 1
    "Howay the Lads!" My former wife was a Geordie, and though she spent many years in the Thames Valley, she could still come out with Geordie-isms when provoked, and her brother and family were still in the Northeast, so though I am American, I became familiar with the dialect. This helped a great deal when I went to see the movie "Billy Eliot" a few years ago. Much of the dialog in the film (set in Tyneside) was heavily Geordie: I was the only person in the theater who was laughing: none of the other folks in the theater could understand more than about one word in three! Good movie. – tautophile Jul 25 '18 at 5:13
1

Realistically the most common "equivalent" is to just drop the word. So

"Hey, what's up?"

and

"C'mon, don't make me do this."

Or "Happy Birthday!" instead of "Happy Birthday Man!"

In some circles "girl" is used I would say somewhat equivalently. I would also say this usage tends to be used a little more between women than male to female.

"Hey girl, how are you?"

  • "Man" was originally--i.e., in early Anglo-Saxon or Proto-Germanic--gender-neutral. That is, it meant "human being". Fairly early on, though, it came to mean "male human being", and a grammatically neutral word of uncertain origin, "wif" (modern "wife") was attached to it to make "wif-man" or "woman", i.e., a female human being. Another Anglo-Saxon word for a female human being was cwen, cognate with Greek gyne and the origin of "queen". The corresponding A-S word for a male human being was wer, cognate with Latin vir and still found in "werewolf". – tautophile Jul 25 '18 at 3:28
1

I think fam and yo fit the bill. However, man has more flexible placement in a sentence.

Man, it's gon' be lit!
It's gon' be lit, fam!
Hey, man, chill out!
Yo, chill out!
Chill out, yo!

0

The female equivalents I am aware of are "hon," "babe," "girl," etc. Unfortunately, they have a different connotation. "Chick" is at least ironic enough that you can use it on your friends. But, really, "man," "dude," "mate," etc are just fine to be multigendered. In fact, some people get offended by the idea that you can't use those terms for women.

0

"Man" was originally--i.e., in early Anglo-Saxon or Proto-Germanic--gender-neutral. That is, it meant merely "human being", irrespective of sex. Fairly early on, though, it came to mean "male human being", and a grammatically neutral word of uncertain origin, wif (modern "wife") was attached to it to make "wif-man" or "woman", i.e., a female human being. Another Anglo-Saxon word for a female human being was cwen, cognate with Greek gyne and the origin of our "queen". Another A-S word for a male human being was wer, cognate with Latin vir and still found in "werewolf". There's also A-S guma, cognate with Latin "homo", that survives in "bridegroom", which ought to be "bridegoom".

Does all this answer the question: is there a gender-neutral term for "man" in modern English? No, it doesn't, and it would appear that the answer to the question is "No, there isn't, except insofar as "man" is still used that way."

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