I was shocked to see that people find "man hours" to be a very sexist term and that it also seems to apply to the idea of "man days."

As far as I am aware man here is just simply referring to mankind as opposed to machines or devices. But, perhaps mankind is a problem of its own now for being overly male.

Is man as in mankind to refer to humans now considered sexist?

  • Related: Can “man” always be used to mean both men and women?
    – herisson
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 7:24
  • 3
    When I was a schoolgirl in the 1960s I was corrected (by a female teacher!) for using 'humans' instead of 'man' in a biology essay. Nowadays, my church even insists on mangling familiar hymns to avoid all references to 'men' or 'brothers'. So, yes, 'mankind' is frowned on by the politically correct. Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 8:05
  • 1
    Man is to be found in human, mankind and woman, because there is a definite relationship between men, mankind, humans, humanity, and women. And as a woman, I personally am not offended by the biological relationship. And I never have trouble understanding the context, although I can see that there are many who do. Apparently, unreasonable subjection of the context to political abuse has created a backlash reaction against the usage of the abbreviated term (man) to mean mankind or human. If not for the seriously negative political history, I doubt it would ever have become an issue.
    – Bread
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 9:44
  • 2
    Unless you've been living in a cave since the late 1960s, I find your protests of “shock” rather hollow. If humankind can refer to all humans, and certain female humans object to being a silent partner in the grammatical construct of the inclusive masculine mankind, why don't you just listen to them?
    – KarlG
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 10:55
  • 1
    Actually, the word "human" contains the word "man" within it. One day, wait and see, "peoplekind" will not be ridiculized by the biased media. We will witness the demise of "humankind" in our lifetime theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/07/… (/sarcasm)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 17:21

3 Answers 3


Since there is no universally accepted measure of gender bias in individual words or expressions, what you are asking resolves into a matter of opinion. What can be objectively measured, however, is the frequency of word usage over time.

Mankind, Humankind

The element man in both mankind and woman is — or at least was originally — gender-neutral, just like the German indefinite pronoun man ‘one’ today. To speak exclusively of males, the word menkind emerged in the late 14 c.

By the time humankind emerged as an alternative to mankind in the mid-17th century, man referred exclusively to males, while the capitalized Man could refer to humans in the abstract, either as natural or cultural beings. Humankind was only incidentally gender-neutral, i.e., it was not coined for that particular purpose, and in subsequent centuries its usage was never especially frequent. What it had that mankind didn‘t was three syllables: it became a convenient way for poets and hymnwiters to fill out a line:

I dreamed because all humankind, by folly lured and led.
Had selfish grown in heart and mind — that parenthood was dead. — Fibre & Fabric: A Record of American Textile Industries in the Cotton and Woolen Trade, vol. 12, 1890.

Bear JESUS CHRIST the LORD in mind, Who sore by grief was tried ;
Out of pure Love to humankind Upon the Cross He died… — Orby Shipley, ed., Lyra Eucharistica, 1863.

The practice of using obviously male-gendered nouns and pronouns to refer to all of humanity — the inclusive masculine — is a grammatical construct not inherent in the words themselves. In response to the feminist critique of a grammar and lexicon that left women only as implicit, silent partners, humankind found favor by those seeking a more gender-neutral term. This preference is reflected in a Google NGram:

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This steep increase looks far less dramatic when compared to the continued use of mankind:

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The drop in frequency of mankind is not balanced by the increase in humankind, which suggests that 1) other inherently inclusive words such as humanity are being used instead, or 2) writers in English have become less presumptive about making pronouncements about the whole human race.

Man hours/manhours, Person hours

To judge by attestations in the Google Book corpus, person hours was coined in the early 1950s, most likely to distinguish it from man hours, to measure accident rates:

The average accident rate, therefore, was 6.82 deaths and 682 injuries per hundred million person hours. With these average figures as a base, the relative hazard of any particular activity during the same year may be found…Traffic Engineering, vol. 22, 1952, 228.

A person hour was one person spending one hour in automobile travel.

The first usage as a synonym for manhours is in 1975. In this century, however, not covered by a Google NGram and thus not available for comparison, the usage of person hours in the Google Books corpus since 2000 is almost exclusively in the sense of manhours:

The project effort is measured in person hours, person months, or person years with the preferable unit being person hours because it entails less subjectivity of units. — Manfred Bundschuh, Carol Dekkers, The IT Measurement Compendium, 2008.

All times are listed in person hours; those tasks requiring more than one carpenter to complete — for example, installing 2x4-framed platforms, which are too heavy to reasonably expect a single carpenter to carry — would take less total time… — TD & T. (Theatre Design & Technology Journal), 44-45 (2008), 64.


The increase in both humankind and person hours suggests that it is far easier for a social movement to influence the frequency and meaning of already existing nouns then promulgating new coinages or dramatically altering the grammar of English to conform to some agenda. I remember the first time I was told by a professor in the 80s that humankind should be the preferred term, and despite agreeing with the argument for more inclusive language, I felt it was affected and agenda-laden. Now, of course, I would no more use the word Mankind than I would call a refrigerator an icebox.

  • You forgot to mention "peoplekind" and the ballyhoo that created worldwide.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 17:23

The old Anglo-Saxon word man originally meant "person, of either sex". The word for "male human being" was wer, as in werewolf, which is akin to the Latin vir (pronounced weer), of the same meaning. Another A-S word was guma, akin to the Latin homo, a human being; it remains as the groom in bridegroom. Woman was originally wif-man, wif meaning "female person". Another old English word for female human being was cwen, which became queen, and whose meaning narrowed to "spouse of a king"; but the related word in the Scandinavian languages remained the general word for female person (e.g., kvin). It is related to the Greek word gyne for "female", that appears in gynecology.

  • So.... you're saying mankind is not a sexist word. Yes, speak out. Say it, man!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 17:45
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    No, Mari-Lou, I neither affirm nor deny that "mankind" is a sexist word. Besides, I didn't mention the word "mankind" in my comment above, so I couldn't have said it is not a sexist word. However, "mankind" originally had no "sexist" associations, having been coined in the 13th century from "man", a neuter noun in Old English, and "kind", also neuter. The language and its component words have changed since then, though, and it can be argued that "mankind" nowadays is a sexist word; but that point is not settled.
    – tautophile
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 4:57
  • Actually, we can blame the Greeks for all this. As I understand, their early grammarians noted that there were three types of nouns that had different endings. These types were classified as genders (which is a word of Latin origin, coined later by Roman writers adapting Greek grammar to Latin). They could have called them genders one, two, and three, but instead they called them masculine, feminine, and neuter, because some words for male beings were of gender 1, some words for female beings were of gender 2, and the rest were of gender 3. That's how gender got confused with sex.
    – tautophile
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 5:06
  • I know the history of the word, mankind, and I know that languages have gendered words, I speak Italian so everything has a gender, a light is feminine, but the sun is masculine. But you have side-stepped the issue, you have not answered the OP's question in the slightest, they're not interested in its etymology, so my comment was meant to poke you into taking a more decisive stand. Evidently, you don't want to be drawn into this type of discussion but that is the main thrust of the OP's Q.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 6:08
  • 2
    Not all languages have the concept of grammatical gender, and some that have grammatical gender define their genders differently e.g., into animate/inanimate, divine/human, human/animal, etc. , not necessarily into masculine/feminine or masculine/feminine/neuter. The Original Poster's question was,"Is man as in mankind to refer to humans now considered sexist?" My answer is, "Some people would consider it so."
    – tautophile
    Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 14:46

"Is man as in mankind to refer to humans now considered sexist?"

That's less of a question of the English language than of political correctness.

That said, the Cambridge Dictionary has a helpful article that seems to think the jury is still out on that one.

Man, mankind or people?
Mankind can also refer to all human beings, male and female, usually in the sense of social or conscious beings. Although people generally consider it less sexist than man, it is usually better to use a different expression, such as human beings (with a plural verb) or humankind (with a singular verb): Humankind has always dreamt of happiness … (preferred to Mankind has always dreamt …)

Remember, "Some men are female."

See also: Generic Words for Humans under Gender neutrality in English on Wikipedia.

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