It’s now (often) considered politically incorrect to say chairman. We must now say chairperson or simply chair.

Does the same apply to man-hour? Should I instead say person-hour? (On say a job application.)

Context examples:

  • "Increased US airport security measures since 2011 have wasted an additional 3 (or whatever) billion man-years of standing in queues."

  • "This website's interface requires an additional unnecessary mouse-click, thereby costing users 1 million man-hours a year."

  • "3 man-hours have been lost due to drivers having to manoeuvre around this fallen tree branch."

  • "The Mythical Man-Month"

I’m not talking about time wasted per person, but rather the grand total of time across all involved persons.

  • 13
    I think it's well worth reading Douglas Hofstadter's A Person Paper on Purity in Language which deals with questions like this.
    – Yossarian
    Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 15:15
  • 11
    Interesting, calling someone 'a chair' is highly insulting in many languages... Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 13:54
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    Man-hour like horsepower is gender neutral. Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 18:06
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 23:00
  • This is now a different question. You should post a new question with a title that reflects its contents more accurately, as it seems clear to me (if not to everyone else) that your problem still hasn't been solved. Your question title asks one thing, but the content another. It's hardly fair on the users who have spent time doing research and writing answers.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 23, 2014 at 22:13

8 Answers 8


Political correctness is in the ear of the beholder.

Personally, until I am deemed to be of the huperson race, I will continue to use man hour, manpower, mankind, etc.

And, to answer your question, don't use "person-hour" on a job-application. It sounds ridiculous (in my opinion). If you want to use something gender-neutral, you can measure in terms of FTE (Full Time Equivalent).

  • 15
    Agreed (+1). I take the stance if you intend it to be demeaning, then it is, but if you are speaking using standard vocabulary, then you are communicating. Making up new words to appease a few only serves to confuse the majority and detract from the point at hand. Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 13:55
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    But when you're a member of the huperson race, male hupeople will be referred to as "people" and female hupeople as "wopeople". And then everybody will realise that "person" is a sexist term, too, and another round of political correctness will begin. Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 17:07
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    @DavidRicherby: ITYM peroffspring. I rather think that when we're members of the huperoffspring race, male huperoffsprings will be referred to as "male huperoffsprings", and female huperoffsprings will be referred to as "female huperoffsprings", on the rare occasions it matters to distinguish. The inspiration for political correctness is not to find "non-sexist" terms to change the labels used to discriminate: it is to reduce people's inclination to discriminate. Whether it's working is another matter ofc. Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 17:09
  • 14
    I don't see how this answers the question to the standards of this site.
    – DQdlM
    Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 17:55
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    Your suggestion of "huperson" is etymologically unsound. "Human" is from Latin humanus, and has nothing to do with men, for which the Latin word was vir. Substituting "person" for the "man" in "human" makes about as much sense as replacing "supersonic" with "superchildic"; if you really wanted to go that ridiculous route, you should have suggested "huperchild". Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 4:41


As @Ste says, this is subjective. But in my opinion, yes, you should use a gender-neutral term for tracking work time. I suggest "worker hours".

(Edit: for context, I'm a Christian who takes the Bible seriously on everything, including gender roles. I see this mainly as an issue of kindness, not advocacy for a view of gender.)

Does every term including "man" need revising? Maybe not. And yes, we can make funny-sounding neutral examples. "Personhole" is one I thought of recently, while passing by a storm drain.

But consider how you'd feel if you were a woman on a team of accountants or architects or programmers, and someone said that your last project had taken 300 "man hours". Whoops, sounds like you didn't contribute.

Douglas Hofstadter's essay did a lot to change my own feelings on the subject.

I don't take a blanket approach, but I think it's worth considering context. Nobody thinks that "mankind" means only men, so I think it's fine (though "humanity" may be better). But many people think women aren't doctors, so "man hours" to describe physicians' work may reinforce a wrong perception.

"Worker hours" sounds less awkward to me than "person hours" and actually conveys the idea better than "man hours", anyway: we're measuring hours of work, not hours of being a man. Similarly, "access hole" might be better than "manhole".

If you can be more accurate, more inclusive, and it doesn't sound awkward, why not?

  • 2
    I like "utility hole". Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 4:42
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    +1 because, although a contradiction to my own answer, it is also entirely correct. I just take a different stance.
    – Ste
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 5:37
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    Interesting. I would never perceive gender- or sex-specific undertones in man-hours anywhere near as easily as I would in mankind. I’m reluctant to use monstrosities like chairperson myself (simply because they’re post-rationalising monstrosities) and have no problem with chairman being gender neutral—just like I have no problem with nurse being gender-neutral—but mankind is a word that I would normally eschew and use humankind instead. Indeed, mankind does (also) mean men specifically, which is a disadvantage not shared with chairman. Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 12:34
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    "post-rationalising monstrosities" - I like it!
    – Gusdor
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 13:50
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    @Mehrdad - Just because people aren't trying to be sexist doesn't mean they're not being sexist. (I am not trying to be annoying, but...)
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 14:27

Here is a Google Ngram chart that tracks the frequency of occurrence of "man hours" (blue line) versus "person hours" (red line) in the Google Books database over the years 1900–2008:

Several things are evident from this chart. First, the frequency of "man hours" (which includes matches for "man-hours," because the Ngram search algorithm reads the two forms as if they were identical) has dropped sharply since about 1970.

Second, though the frequency of "person hours" (and hence also "person-hours") has grown from practically zero in the late 1960s to a smallish but fairly steady frequency in the 2000s, it certainly has not taken up much of the slack from the decline of "man hours." This circumstance strongly suggests that some unidentified expression is standing in for the latter in many situations where "man hours" was used during its heyday. In my view, the likeliest replacement for man-hours in many settings is the unadorned noun hours.

Third, "man hours" itself appears to be a creature of the twentieth century. Until 1910, its frequency was essentially zero; but between 1910 and 1950, its popularity skyrocketed. It entered its phase of steady decline around 1970 after peaking during the 1950s.

As for what triggered the decline in "man-hours," I think that disapproval (justified or not) of its being a gender-loaded term almost certainly contributed to the drop-off in usage. But this likelihood does not in itself lend weight to the assertion that "man-hours" versus "person-hours" is a zero-sum situation. In fact, the Google Books data tends to undermine the hypothesis that "person-hours" was the main beneficiary of the decline of "man-hours."

But if the frequency of "man hours" dropped off significantly and the frequency of "person hours" rose very modestly, what took up the slack for the decline in the former? One possibility is the bland (and gender-neutral) term "work hours." Here is the Ngram chart for "man hours" (blue line) versus "person hours" (red line) versus "work hours" (green line) for the period 1900–2005:


The sharp rise in "work hours" begins in the early 1970s, very close to the time when "man hours" begins its sustained decline. This doesn't prove that the two events are causally related, of course, but it at least shows that the Google Books data are consistent with the hypothesis that allegiance may have shifted from "man hours" to "work hours." The same is not true of (for example) the corresponding Ngram chart for "man hours" (blue line) versus "person hours" (red line) versus "hours of work" (green line):

In any case, it seems likely that the English-speaking world has not felt compelled to limit its options in this area to "man-hours" and "person-hours." Language choices rarely come down to stark dichotomies of that sort, because language can usually offer multiple plausible alternatives.


All this political correctness is sick. No, you shouldn't use gender-neutral phrases in place of phrases which have evolved over hundreds of years. We will go crazy reconsidering each word in its political context. All we need is the meaning of the language construction, describing an object of reality.

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    I don't think this is an answer to the question. The OP is enquiring about standards of political correctness and how to conform to them. If you dislike the entire approach, that may be a perfectly valid comment but it is not, by the conventions of StackExchange, an answer.
    – itsbruce
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 11:55
  • 10
    @itsbruce I think this is a blanket answer, "Don't use gender-neutral phrases at all," and as such it covers the usage of "person hours" in the question. It is a bit of a rant, though.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 12:03
  • 1
    Yes, political correctness is horrible, let's go for the opposite instead. If you believe it's stupid to be offended by this, then you must realize that by that logic, those who are offended by political correctness are at least as stupid? Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 15:57
  • 4
    I understand your sentiment and have seen examples I considered silly. But "meaning" is more that definition, it's also connotation. "Fat" and "overweight" mean roughly the same thing, but "fat" has a more offensive feel. You probably don't use it as freely, because you want to be kind, even if you personally don't see the difference as important. Being considerate means considering how someone else feels, not how you think they should feel. If a woman told you she felt excluded by "man hours", would you say "get over it", or try to be considerate? Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 16:13
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    (Only) because it is a blanket statement, I strongly disagree with this answer. Counterpoint: in Portuguese, "gipsy" is in the dictionary as "5. someone who acts cleverly to trick or cheat someone else", and "do jew things" as "prank, mock, mistreat". Using these terms will perpetuate the... demonization of those cultures and, to be fair, borders on xenophobia. Just because we're used to these words and don't notice it, doesn't make it any less so. See "being considerate" above, by @NathanLong.
    – ANeves
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 10:55

Another potential replacement phrase might be Labor Hours


A considerate approach that doesn't transform your statement into one that sounds patronizing and moronic is to choose a different word that conveys the same meaning. For example, if 8 man-hours is the same as 1 technical head count, then divide your total number of man-hours by 8 and state your criterion in TTHC. Or, if by a man-hour you simply mean 1 hour of uninterrupted labor, then state it in terms of labor hours.

In the end, if you are so uncomfortable with a term that you had to doubt yourself about your use of it, then that term is inappropriate for you. Have the cojones (or the you-go-girl attitude) to write what you truly mean and your confidence will be heard; choose equivocating and ingratiating words and your spinelessness will be heard.


In response to the OP's edit which clarifies the context in which the term man-hour was perceived to be (possibly) politically incorrect, I would argue that the term is inappropriate and misleading for the particular situation he describes.

The OP: Increased US airport security measures since 2011 have wasted an additional 3 (or whatever) billion man-[hours] of standing in queues

A more accurate and precise way of saying the time endured (or wasted) by travellers in queues and lines would be wait time or passenger wait time.

Customs Waits at Airports Found to Be Three to Five Hours

U.S. Customs and Border Protection staffing shortages are leaving arriving international travelers standing in line for nearly five hours at the busiest airports, according to a travel industry report.

Peak wait times reached a high of 4.5 hours at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in December 2012. At Miami in April 2013, the peak wait times were 4.7 hours.

From The New York Times article Why Waiting Is Torture (8/18/2012)

SOME years ago, executives at a Houston airport faced a troubling customer-relations issue. Passengers were lodging an inordinate number of complaints about the long waits at baggage claim. In response, the executives increased the number of baggage handlers working that shift. The plan worked: the average wait fell to eight minutes, well within industry benchmarks. But the complaints persisted. [...]

So the airport decided on a new approach: instead of reducing wait times, it moved the arrival gates away from the main terminal and routed bags to the outermost carousel. Passengers now had to walk six times longer to get their bags. Complaints dropped to near zero.

And in another NYT article (4/18/2012)

Flying Through Airport Lines
MORE than 10 years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks completely altered the airport experience, travelers have a variety of options that will shorten wait times at security and immigration.

  • Well yes, but I'd like something that can be applied more generally. Not just specifically for wait times. E.g. this website's interface forces each user to make an additional mouseclick, thereby wasting an additional 1 million man-hours per year.
    – user38936
    Commented Nov 23, 2014 at 17:07
  • @KennyLJ 1,000,000 man hours per year is lost in what? Clicking a link? In case it was a typo, or maybe it was deliberate, in your edit you talk about "billion man years of standing in queues" Is that hyperbole, or a serious estimate? In any case, I answered your edit: The time spent in waiting in queues is called "wait time" and "passenger wait time" Please see here: nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=14589&page=17
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 23, 2014 at 17:24

You said not to worry about why it's being used... but I can't help it! Have you ever noticed that getting stuck on a question of weird grammar or social usage is an indicator that you're using the wrong word to begin with?

"Man-Hours" is not directly derived from the Noun man, rather it refers to the Verb man.

So the important word to consider here is how the word "manning" applies. The Verb man has 2 senses; first "to be at your station", second "to assign to stations". These 2 senses bring up the concept of perspective. If you are the person manning the station you are spending literal hours, if you are management making assignments you are spending man-hours.This harmonizes with standard business usage of man-hours which is either for estimation purposes or for cost accounting.

I looked for a good reference on this. While it's easy to find a ton of references showing that man-hour is primarily used for estimation and cost accounting, it's very hard to validate that it is only used that way.

So I'll propose some thought experiments to demonstrate that we have an intuition about correct usage;

"Wow I'm tired. I worked 12 (hours or man-hours) today."

"Staffing is going to take 78 (hours or man-hours) to keep this store open 24 (hours or man-hours) a day."

"That will take 3 hours for the two of us to finish. It's 5pm now, it will be on your desk (at 8pm or 11am tomorrow)."

"That will take 3 man-hours to finish. It's 4pm now, the 3 of us (can or can't) have it done by 5."

"It takes 2 hours from the time the metal is poured until it can be packed for shipping, at a cost of .12 (hours or man-hours) per part."

So assuming that your instincts have been guided by standard business usage (and not distorted by a pointy-haired-boss who missuses it and every other buzzword), you'll see that you would never refer to literal hours that you personally spent as "man-hours".

Using the correct term clarifies the gender aspect by clarifying that the subject is non-gendered in the first place. If your industry doesn't use the term "manning" don't use "man-hour". (Manning remains a current phrase in manufacturing, since it clarifies the scope of discussion to the time of actual machine operators and excludes support staff and management.)

Using the phrase Labor Hours (as TD pointed out) clarifies the focus of the discussion is the work and NOT the identity of the workers.

In non-manufacturing (or military) contexts you probably are actually talking about:

  • "Staff hours" - includes support staff
  • "Business hours" - specific to the hours a business defines itself as "open"
  • "Project hours" - specific to the fractured nature of time spent on a project by one or more persons
  • "Billable hours" - profession specific

{ References: You're not going to find precompiled discussions of the origin of "man-hour". So if you need to validate the above statements you'll have to do your own Etymology research. The following are some samples of highly edited and regulated usage of "man hour" as a measurement of "manning" and "manpower".

US Army - www.apd.army.mil/pdffiles/r570_4.pdf

US Navy - www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/organization/navmac/Documents/MANPOWERGLOSSARY.doc

Rand Organization - www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monograph_reports/2007/MR1436.p‌​df

These organizations have been using the noun manpower, verb manning, and measurement man-hour since (at least) World War 2. The first attested use of Man Hour is attributed to 1911 in a business context, but the original source is not searchable online.

  • 5
    You claimed that "man-hours" derive from the verb "to man". Do you have a reference for that?
    – Zephyrus
    Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 5:19
  • Sure I can give you references. But it's not going to be precompiled etymology, you're going to have to do your own reading. US Army - www.apd.army.mil%2Fpdffiles%2Fr570_4.pdf US Navy - www.public.navy.mil%2Fbupers-npc%2Forganization%2Fnavmac%2FDocuments%2FMANPOWERGLOSSARY.doc Rand Organization - www.rand.org%2Fcontent%2Fdam%2Frand%2Fpubs%2Fmonograph_reports%2F2007%2FMR1436.pdf These organizations have been using the noun manpower, verb manning, and measurement man-hour since (at least) World War 2. Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 19:53
  • 2
    First of all, the links are all broken, second just because they use "manpower" and the verb "to man" in the same document doesn't prove one was derived from the other.
    – Zephyrus
    Commented Jan 31, 2015 at 22:26
  • 3
    Man-hour is a unit name like foot-pound or kilowatt-hour. It's two quantities that are multiplied together. The name tells you how to do the math to calculate it, just like miles per gallon or dollars per hour. Man is a noun just like any other unit.
    – jejorda2
    Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 0:20

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