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A common gender noun

September 24, 2013

common gender nouns





















I find myself in a bit of a quandary over at God didn’t say that. Somehow we are not communicating. I threw in the comment that it was a matter of hierarchy, where the gender occurs, and that in nouns of common gender, the meaning is higher in the hierarchy than the gender of the noun. Therefore, anthropos cannot have two meanings on the same level in the hierarchy, one of human, non-gendered, and the other of man, gendered. I hope this image provides some help in what I meant.

It is true that many nouns default to refer to men, or words referring to men, can include women, while words referring to women don’t include men. The system is not symmetrical. However, we still have to consider that there are many common gender nouns in Greek, including theos (god, goddess), ippos (horse), iatros (doctor), diakonos (deacon), apostolos (apostle), etc.  So two systems overlap. First, the common gender noun is symmetrical in its ability to refer to a male or female. Second, language has used the male as a default for human beings. But we can’t delete the reality of the first, the fact that the word of common gender equally means a female. I don’t know if this is useful or not.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2013 11:51 am

    This is useful. Your charts are an analysis from MG, correct? Well, it needs to be clear that much much older Greek has anthropos as common gender.

    Demosthenes uses the phrase for “woman” in different contexts. One J. T. Champlin, professor of Greek and Latin in Waterville College, in his publication of some of the Greek texts adds this commentary:

    The term ἀνθρωπος is of the common gender, meaning a human being, whether man or woman, and, besides, is often added in designating classes of men, so that βάρβαροι ανθρωπον means simply “a barbarian.”

    Now, the funny thing about this little comment, of course, is that it’s written in 1855, when “men” like Champlin (whether males or females, as was Julia E. Smith when she read some of the same old Greek) used “men” for “mankind” or “humans” or “people” or “persons.” We’ve come a long way. And a long way we still have to go.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 24, 2013 12:11 pm

    Yes, of course, I meant that anthropos is of common gender. And it certainly is a class term for mere mortals, slaves, lowly people, etc. Thanks for the quote.

  3. September 24, 2013 11:43 pm

    I wonder if Joel might not be a bit too influenced by the way “man” works in pre-1970s English, or the way the gender nouns work in Hebrew. I suspect that Joel grew up learning English, and that Hebrew was one of the first foreign languages he learned.

    In particular, if the example is from Hebrew, then there are a lot of problems in carrying over the analogy to Greek. For example, one might suppose that ish & isha have a common root — in part because “man” & “woman” have a common root and in part because the Bible (Genesis 2:23) tells us so. The problem is that it does not actually work in Hebrew, as Balashon informs us in one of his most amusing posts.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 25, 2013 9:30 am

    That was an interesting post at Balashon, especially the point about how the world was created from the hebrew language. That is the problem. Going from ish to anthropos, which really is a mismatch, as anthropos is usually adam also, a human.

    I checked some lexicons, and anthropos meaning “man as opposed to woman,” does not appear in the LSJ, but is mentioned in the French Magnien, LaCroix as a hebraism, and in the BDAG, anthropos is basically a human being.

    So, not only does “man” in English mess things up, but assuming that there is a parallel between ish and anthropos is also a problem. Greek is its own language not just a translation of Hebrew.

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