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The original meaning of the English word "man" (from Proto-Germanic mannaz, "person") and words derived therefrom was used as a designation for any or all human beings regardless of gender or age. This is the oldest usage of "man". In Old English the words wer and wyf (also wæpman and wifman) were used to refer to "a male" and "a female" respectively, and the word "man" was gender neutral. (This is still seen even today in certain words. For an example, there is the word "werewolf", which literally means man-wolf. In German "man" is a gender-neutral general subject, while "Mann" means man.) Later, in Middle English, "man" displaced wer as the term for male humans, whilst wyfman, which eventually evolved into "woman", was retained for female humans. Since then, the word "man" has been used to refer both to humanity as a whole (e.g., "Mankind") and to male humans.
The earliest use of the term "womyn" attested in the Oxford English Dictionary is in the name of a 1975 "womyn's festival" mentioned in a lesbian publication.
Feminists who prefer to use these words feel that the terms "woman/women" relate to the historical and ongoing social subordination of women, since the word "man" is seen as an exclusively male term, implying that women are a subset of men, or a deviation from the norm. Those who argue in favour of the terms "womon/womyn/womin" contend that they have the right to choose how a term referring to them is spelled, rather than be compelled to use words that evolved in what they see as a patriarchal society. Some feminists further argue that "womyn" is based on a medieval spelling of the word, and that returning to the old model of waeman and wyfman meaning man and woman, respectively, would be more egalitarian. Feminists in favor of the modification argue that language is a powerful tool that shapes the way people perceive their surroundings, and even how they understand gender and gender roles (see Sapir-Whorf hypothesis). They also feel that the current form of the words does not value women. Therefore, some feminists see these changes as part of a movement to correct what they consider inherent biases in language.
Usage of "womon/womyn/womin" and related terms is essentially nonexistent outside of some segments of feminism. Opponents of it see it as unnecessary, and argue that it is based on a misinterpretation of the words "man"/"men" and "male." They cite the etymology of the terms "man" and "woman," and note that both the origin and current usage of the two words are already gender-specific. Furthermore, since "womon/womyn/womin" terms have not been accepted as standard English words, using these terminologies outside of the small circles that have universally adopted them will often be seen as grammatically incorrect or semantically meaningless, and therefore those who choose to use the terms will often be taken less seriously and credibly by serious academics and common people alike.
Other opponents of the terms see the adjustments as an example of excessive political correctness. Still others note that, given that word etymology shows that the word "woman" is not sexist to begin with, unnecessarily eliminating "men" from it exhibits an anti-male gender bias or outright misandry. Further, many feminists themselves object to using "womon/womyn/womin," noting that it serves as an unnecessary distraction from what they consider more important feminist goals.
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