I don't think man stands for male here, I think it stands for human—it is a humanhole. Does it have this name because its purpose is to provide access to the sewer for men?
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
The origin of “manhole” is indeed a simple combination of “man” and “hole”. “Hole” is easy enough to understand, but with “man” there's some confusion since the word nowadays refers to a specific gender.
In the OED, we find:
I. A human being (irrespective of [gender] or age).
Man was considered until the 20th cent. to include women by implication, though referring primarily to [men]. It is now freq. understood to exclude women, and is therefore avoided by many people.
Source: “man, n.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2014. Web. 14 April 2014.
As is often the case with older senses of words, a sort of fossilization has occurred, whereby the older sense persists in certain compound words or phrases. In this particular instance, since the newer sense of that part of the word unneccessarily excludes approximately half of all people, some consider the word worth changing.
From MIT's Editorial Style Guide:
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language explains in a Usage Note that the word “man” has been used in the sense of the broader term “human” since Old English times. This, the Note goes on, results in “an asymmetric arrangement that many criticize as sexist.” Although levels of acceptance vary for each of the words in the left-hand column below (as well as for their feminine counterparts, of course), we offer some possible gender-neutral substitutions, should you choose to use them. Which we encourage.
Source: Editorial Style Guide for The Office of Communications and Donor Relations, MIT
For “manhole” they offer the alternatives “utility hole” and “sewer hole” which, judging by your question, you may find more accurate to the fact that these service hatches are not actually gender-specific.
Opponents of changing how we refer to “manholes” claim that such alterations to the language are “political correctness run amok” and point to lack of prior usage as evidence that nobody will understand anybody inventing new terms for these passages or their coverings. Indeed, despite increases in usage for various alternatives (which may not even be referring to the same item), the most popular term by far is still “manhole”. The choice is yours! I personally have no problem understanding when someone says “manholes” and likewise no problem being clear and terse while using other words for these things.
I'm not sure what OP means by "stands for" here - I'm pretty certain non-gender-specific use of the word man in English predates the very existence of the word human, so we can't really say it's a "short form".
Everything depends on context. If a product is described as man-made, or a commercial project is costed in man-years, this in no way excludes women from being involved. As it says here...
Some would argue that any use of the word 'man', e.g. manhole, is biased and should be avoided. Others are quite happy with female chairmen.
In short, this whole issue is nothing whatsoever to do with "meaning" as such. It just so happens it's an area of language usage that bothers some people for political/sociological reasons, not semantics.
It's not unknown for people to object to the word bitch, for example - simply because they've heard it applied to a woman in a derogatory sense more often than as a neutral reference to a female dog. Sometimes the very same people who argue for the man/woman distinction feel uncomfortable with the corresponding dog/bitch usage. I certainly never heard anyone suggest that a woman priest might wear a "bitch collar."
Edited after comments and answers (to make this answer better and not misleading)
Agreed, Tyler put a good point. The word man has been used for a human with no gender specification. But...
When these terms were introduced for those particular work they refer to, those works were mainly done by men and never by women. Take cleaning through the hole (manhole), constructing the road (men at work), fighting with fire (firemen) and so on.
But then as the world became advanced, women started working everywhere. Let us not forget that our grandma's grandma never did any business nor does they were out in the society dealing with others. Primarily, they handled kids and their homes (Not sure about the rest of the world but this happened in India at least!). The revolution begun and then women started stepping out from their homes and today, you find them everywhere, equally working on the tasks like men.
About the terms, though lately but the change is happening. The linguists and grammarians now introducing the words those are epicene especially where things strictly don't belong to men. Mankind turned Humankind, Businessman turned Businessperson and Sportsmanship turned Sportspersonship. This is simply because why mankind, aren't women part of this?; Why businessman, can't a woman do business?; and, why sportsmanship, don't women have that spirit? The answers are right there and thus, the terms with epicene words are getting adapted worldwide.
In my opinion, those all work that required endurance, great physical strength and chances of putting life at risks took their term involving men and that's the reason I guess, manhole is the hole where the person (of course men, women entering that hole is unlikely even today). In coming years, if women start doing this work, I'm pretty sure, it'll be a humanhole as it has happened with other terms. While talking about the works that require great physical strength and endurance, I'm not talking about the medical condition of undergoing a labor (Thanks, Nico!) but the work that happens in the society.
If there are terms where the word man is applied and if these terms refer to the work, event or whatsoever that does not strictly adhere to the gender, in coming years, they'd also likely to get changed. FumbleFingers, the term manned spaceflight is already changed into human spaceflight. Again, read my opinion above!
All in all, the things those were done mainly, if not only, by men once, were introduced with the terms having the word man in it. Slowly but steadily, these terms are being replaced if those tasks or whatever is not just limited to men. Examples I already wrote.
Well, the article has good answer, the article where the picture is probably taken from. Even if the picture not taken from there, it's worth reading. I searched for the word history and found this what I feel is related:
manhole (n) - a hole, usually with a cover, through which a person may enter a sewer, drain, steam boiler, etc., especially one located in a city street.
What I think is the work that required strength, risk (of life) and endurance were (and are?) mainly done by men. And that goes with the definition of ...through which a person (generally a man) may enter a sewer, drain... However, over the period of time, in such hole a woman might have started working (though I'm not sure for that even today!).
I think there is some confusion when it comes from if you consider the modern usage of manholes. Today, an alternative name for them is maintenance chamber, so an incorrect assumption could be that the word has come from an abbreviation of maintenance to form man-hole.
Sewer workers or navvy's were primarily men in the 19th century England and a manhole would have been an access point where they could enter. The alternative is an inspection chamber where you cannot access with a man.
The term "man" was once gender neutral. It started acquiring a male connotation in Old English. However, it can still refer to humans in general, depending on context.
As a general rule, "a man" or "the man" refers to a male adult human. Just "man" is likely to be gender neutral, meaning "human" or Homo sapiens. (To further illustrate the point, note that human is derived from the Proto-Indo-European root that produced man, and Homo is a Latin cognate of man.)
Therefore, considering manhole to be a gender-discriminatory term would be political correctness run amok.
Does it have this name because its purpose is to provide access to the sewer for men?
Yes. First recorded in 1769, it was a hole for men to use.
J. Watt Letters 1 May in J. P. Muirhead "Origin & Progress Mechanincal Inventions J. Watt" (1854) I. 57 I will soon be East, and give directions about the man-hole.
The noun has survived unchanged in popular use regardless of any modern attempt at equality, which, in terms of your question, is a red herring. From the start, man, as in "mankind," was assumed to be males, who, could, at their whim, grant woman/womankind certain privileges such as equality. A lot of this was based on the Bible: 1 Corinthians 11:3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
In 1796, the entire business of the world was conducted in the masculine and from a masculine point of view* (with the possible exception of any Queen).
Up until relatively recently, the idea of a woman going down a manhole as part of her occupation would have been more than surprising - hence it was understood to referred to males only.
*For historical reasons, all English laws used he, him, and his, but, if I recall correctly, with a rider in the Interpretation Act that "the masculine, unless otherwise stated, shall include the feminine where appropriate."
English is peppered with words from other languages, French, German, Latin, Greek, Gaelic etc. Man in some contexts comes from the Latin for Hand. Man made means made by hand, a manual is a hand book. Manage is to work by hand. Manpower was what could be achieved by hand work.
Man referring to people has Germanic roots,in German, a person is a Mensch.
Etymology is fascinating and if people would take time to understand the roots of words they might be much less woke.