Manly, Manful…Man Up? The Language of Manliness

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 25, 2013 · 56 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

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Unless you regularly read this blog, you may never have heard someone use the word manliness in writing or conversation. Ditto for manly, unless it was said a bit in jest and with the requisite eye roll. And you almost assuredly have never complimented another dude on his manful effort.

These days man is generally only used to designate a person’s gender. There was a time, however, where man – and its many grammatical derivatives – represented a distinct trait and quality, and was employed as a descriptive adjective and adverb.

In our research on manliness over the years, it has been interesting to see the different words that were used to call out a true man and the behaviors befitting a man, and how those words have changed and in some cases disappeared over time. Today we’ll take a look at some of those words and what they used to mean.

The Title of Man in the Ancient World

Mention the word manliness these days and you’ll probably be greeted with snorts and giggles; people have told me that the first time they visited this site, they thought it was a joke. Many people today associate manliness with cartoonish images of men sitting in their man caves, drinking beer and watching the big game. Or, just as likely, they don’t think much about manliness at all, chalking it up to the mere possession of a certain set of genitalia. Whatever image they have in mind when you mention manliness, it isn’t usually positive, and it probably has nothing to do with virtue.

Yet for over two thousand years, many of the world’s great thinkers explored and celebrated the subject of manliness, imagining it not as something silly or biologically inherent, but as the culmination of certain virtues as expressed in the life of a man.

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The ancient Greek word for courage – andreia – literally meant manliness. Courage was considered the sin qua non of being a man; the two qualities were inextricably linked. The Greeks primarily thought of andreia in terms of valor and excellence on the battlefield. A man with courage was strong and bold, with a white hot thumos. They believed that to attain full arête – or excellence – a man should join courage with other cardinal virtues like wisdom, justice, and temperance. But, they also acknowledged that men who were unjust and unwise could still be fiercely courageous – and manly. At the same time, many philosophers argued that courage was really a form of self-control and was just as essential for success in peacetime as it was in war. Aristotle for example broadly described courage as a man’s ability to “hold fast to the orders of reason about what he ought or ought not to fear in spite of pleasure and pain.”

The Roman word for man – vir – was very similar in definition to the Greek andreia. Vir was strongly associated with courage, particularly of the martial variety. In the latter part of the Roman era, as excellence became just as necessary in governance as on the battlefield, the traits associated with being a man worthy of the title vir expanded to include not just courage, but other qualities such as fortitude, industry, and dutifulness. Thus it is from the Latin vir that we get the English word virtue.

Manliness

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The next great era of man-centric language was the 19th century. Like the ancient Greeks and Romans, English and American thinkers of that time believed manliness was not an automatic trait of biology but something that had to be earned. Writers and speakers of this period continued the Roman tradition of defining manliness as the possession of a certain set of virtues, adding to the requisite list other qualities befitting a Victorian gentleman:

“Manliness means perfect manhood, as womanliness implies perfect womanhood. Manliness is the character of a man as he ought to be, as he was meant to be. It expresses the qualities which go to make a perfect man, — truth, courage, conscience, freedom, energy, self-possession, self-control. But it does not exclude gentleness, tenderness, compassion, modesty. A man is not less manly, but more so, because he is gentle.”

“For anything worthy of the name of Manliness there must be first…the development of all that is in man—the physical, the mental, the moral, and the spiritual…virtue is the highest quality in a man; and so that manliness is most fully realized where the virtues are most fully developed—the virtues, shall we say, of Bravery, Honesty, Activity, and Piety.”

Men of the 19th and early 20th centuries also saw manliness not simply as a collection of different virtues, but as a virtue in and of itself – a distinct quality. They encouraged men to embrace manliness as the crown of character – as a kind of ineffable bonus power that was produced when all the other virtues were combined (the Captain Planet of the virtues, if you will). Manliness was often noted as a separate, preeminent trait in men worthy of admiration:

“He is going to be known as a boys’ hero. He is going to be known preeminently for his manliness. There is going to be a Roosevelt legend.”

“I have grieved most deeply at the death of your noble son. I have watched his conduct from the commencement of the war, and have pointed with pride to the patriotism, self-denial, and manliness of character he has exhibited.”

Manliness was often used in a way that seemed to imply that while the quality encompassed all the other virtues, it also acted as a balance to them — ensuring that the softer, gentlemanly virtues didn’t sap a man of a virile toughness:

“After all, the greatest of Washington’s qualities was a rugged manliness which gave him the respect and confidence even of his enemies.”

“We have met to commemorate a mighty pioneer feat, a feat of the old days, when men needed to call upon every ounce of courage and hardihood and manliness they possessed in order to make good our claim to this continent. Let us in our turn with equal courage, equal hardihood and manliness, carry on the task that our forefathers have entrusted to our hands.”

As it was in antiquity, the measure of manliness amongst its citizenry was often linked to the health of the republic:

“Government, as recognized by Democracy, pre-supposes manliness, knowledge, wisdom.”

“We are a vigorous, masterful people, and the man who is to do good work in our country must not only be a good man, but also emphatically a man. We must have the qualities of courage, of hardihood, of power to hold one’s own in the hurly-burly of actual life. We must have the manhood that shows on fought fields and that shows in the work of the business world and in the struggles of civic life. We must have manliness, courage, strength, resolution, joined to decency and morality, or we shall make but poor work of it.”

Manly

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The perfect definition for manly can be found in an 1844 Greek and English lexicon, showing as it does a common thread in the understanding of manliness that runs from antiquity, through the 19th century, and up to how we employ the descriptor on AoM in the present day:

“Pertaining to a man, masculine; manly; suiting, fit for, becoming a man, or made use of by, as manners, dress, mode of life; suiting, or worthy of a man, as to action, conduct or sentiments, and thus, manly, vigorous, brave, resolute, firm.”

Our forbearers used manly to modify a whole host of behaviors, traits, and objects. An admirable man might be said to possess “manly courage,” which was shown by exhibiting “manly conduct,” making a “manly stand,” and holding on to his “manly independence.” Jefferson believed it was the “manly spirit” of his countrymen that led to revolution. If others did not respect your desire for “manly liberty,” you had to resort to wielding a “manly sword.” Correspondence that was frank in its contents was held up as a “manly letter.” Dress that made a young man seem more mature was advertised as a “manly suit.” Keeping things “simple and on point” might get you complimented for your “manly speech,” while being “candid,” “unaffected,” and “forcible” would earn you praise for a “manly delivery.” How you carried yourself mattered too; George Washington, for one, was described as having “a fine, manly bearing” and men talked about the elements of a “manly handshake” long before we did. And a boy who precociously sought to embody the traits of manliness was considered a “manly boy.”

Manful

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Manful (or manfully) was sometimes used in a similar way as manly. But there were some shades of difference between the two descriptors, even if people weren’t always sure exactly what those differences were. 1871’s Synonyms Discriminated, argued that:

“MANFUL is commonly applied to conduct; MANLY, to character. Manful opposition; manly bravery. Manful is in accordance with the strength of a man; manly, with the moral excellence of a man. Manful is what a man would, as such, be likely to do; manly, what he ought to do, and to feel as well.”

Another lexicographer put it this way:

“Manful points to the energy and vigor of a man; manly, to the generous and noble qualities of a man. The first is opposed to weakness or cowardice, the latter to that which is puerile or mean. We speak of manful exertion without so much reference to the character of the thing for which exertion is made, but manly conduct is that which has reference to a thing worthy of a man.”

English Synonyms Explained saw the difference from another angle:

“MANLY, or like a man, is opposed to juvenile, and of course applied properly to youths; but MANFUL, or full of manhood, is opposed to effeminate, and is applicable more properly to grown persons.”

In practice, authors seemed not to have followed either of these usage rules – and manly and manful were employed fairly interchangeably. Manfully came in handy for when an adverb was needed to note the manful-ness of an action. But as manful appears in old texts much less frequently than manly, and is far less familiar to the modern reader, one can likely assume that the confusion of when to use which led to the latter supplanting the former as the catch-all for behaviors and actions befitting a man.

Unmanned

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The code of honor for a man of the 19th century included many qualities, principal among which was self-control. A man of this time strived to have a stiff upper lip and be calm and cool even under the most trying of circumstances.

To lose one’s self-control was to lose one’s claim to manhood, and thus men of this time described such a slip as being unmanned. One dictionary of the time defined unmanned as “deprived of the powers and qualities of a man. Softened.” The term was frequently used in reference to a man’s giving in to a strong emotional reaction:

“When told that his recovery was hopeless, he was perfectly unmanned, and wept like a child. It is here introduced as showing that while his own misfortunes never for a single moment disturbed his equanimity, the finer feelings of his nature were sensitively alive to the distresses of others.”

“Richard turned to stay the torrent of invectives, in which such words as “renegades,” “traitors,” “mud-sills,” were heard, but the colonel, completely unmanned by the rage he was in, and seemingly unconscious of the presence of the ladies, waved him aside with his hand, and faced the row of frightened, expectant faces.”

A man whose courage failed him could be said to have been “unmanned by terror.” Or if he drank to the point of losing self-control, he might say the liquor had unmanned him.

One of the most poignant tales of a famous man admitting to being unmanned comes from Abraham Lincoln. One of the first deaths in the Civil War – Elmer Ellsworth — was a close friend of the president. Right after receiving news of Ellsworth’s death, a reporter and Senator came into the White House library to speak with Lincoln. Upon entering, they saw him gazing mournfully out the window at the Potomac. He abruptly turned around, stuck out his arm, and said, “Excuse me, but I cannot talk.” He then burst into tears and began walking around the room, holding a handkerchief to his face as he cried. The two visitors were unsure of what to do; as the reporter later remembered, they were “moved at such an unusual spectacle, in such a man, in such a place.” After several minutes, the president turned to them and said, “I make no apology gentlemen, for my weakness, but I knew poor Ellsworth well, and held him in high regard. Just as you entered the room, Captain Fox left me, after giving me the painful details of his unfortunate death. The event was so unexpected, and the recital so touching, that it quite unmanned me.” Lincoln then “made a violent attempt to restrain his emotion” before sharing the details of his friend’s death.

Modern Day: Man Up!

While words like manliness and manful have fallen out of favor in our modern age, our current culture does have its own usages of man-related language.

Man is sometimes tacked on to words to show that they are made for men or have a particularly manly slant, e.g., man purse. Or man is merged into the word itself, such as mancation. Some of these uses are faintly ridiculous, but I’m not above using them myself when I feel it’s appropriate or makes a worthy new word. I quite like the word manvotional for a piece of text that will inspire a man’s spirit, and using a phrase like man room avoids the man-as-Neanderthal connotations of man cave while more succinctly describing a room in which many different manly activities might take place, without having to list out “study, garage, workshop, library…”

But perhaps the dominant man-related term of our modern times is man up. I had always sort of assumed that this now-ubiquitous exhortation was of a somewhat older vintage – that maybe it was coined mid-twentieth century, and had simply been widely discovered and popularized in the last decade or so. But a search for the phrase in Google Books, limited to the 19th and 20th centuries, turned up no results, except for an archaic use of manning up as a term for staffing positions at a business. A search of the archives from the twenty-first century, however, turned up hundreds of books that included the phrase, among which were at least two dozen that used the imperative in the title itself.

Ben Zimmer, author of the “On Language” column at The New York Times, traces the origin of man up back to the 1980s and American football. It was first used in reference to the man-to-man pass defense. For example, in 1985, New York Jets head coach Joe Walton lauded his D-line and their coach for “playing the kind of defense that I wanted and that Bud Carson teaches — aggressive, man up, getting after it, hustling all over the field.” From there the phrase began to take on a more metaphorical cast – as an exhortation to get tough and go hard. The earliest example Zimmer found of this kind of usage is a quote from San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Mike Charles, who told The Union Tribune in 1987: “Right now, by the grace of God, we’re hanging by the skin of our teeth. Now we’ve got to man up and take care of ourselves.”

Man up soon became part of the lingo in another all-male organization that put a premium on grit and strength: the military. Soldiers used it to exhort their brothers-in-arms to pull their weight – as an admonishment to give their best and not become the weak link in the unit.

Thus man up began as an imperative used in male honor groups; born of the reality that each man had a role to play in contributing to the overall strength of the team or unit, it was a man-to-man call to live up to the standards of the group and not let each other down. But as man up gained in usage in the popular culture, it started being used in a variety of contexts – often by women or feminist organizations seeking to tap into the traditional mechanics of honor and shame in an attempt to motivate men to adopt certain behaviors. For example the “Man Up Campaign” is a “global movement” which aims to “end gender-based violence and advance gender equality.” There was also a bit of brouhaha during the most recent Nevada senatorial race when female Republican candidate Sharron Angle told Senator Harry Reid to “Man up!” during a debate. The implication was that Harry Reid was less than a man because he lacked a backbone. The problem when women tell men to “man up!” is that there isn’t really an equally shame-inducing phrase that men can level at women that implies the same thing but won’t get the man criticized for being sexist or patronizing. “Woman up!” just doesn’t sound right (there’s a reason for that). I’ve heard the phrase “put on your big girl panties” said by other women, but if that were to come from a man, it would not likely be received very well!

Man-Up

The road to manliness is paved with…hair gel?

Man up has also been distanced from its origins by being used as a chastisement for those who run afoul of the superficial violations of the “Bro Code.” Advertisers, which have always used shame to sell products, have recently taken to using man up to market their wares as the manly choice. For example, Miller Lite ran a recent campaign that revolved around hot female bartenders shaming men for their ambivalence as to which light beer brand was best, as well as the man’s unforgivably effeminate fashion accessories.

There was even an ABC sitcom called Man Up in 2011 which revolved around the “hilarious” antics of a group of man-children. With super cool and relevant episode titles like “Finessing the Bromance,” it was surprisingly canceled after only 8 episodes.

Man up has become so cliché and meaningless, I’ve stopped using it myself and on AoM altogether.

Conclusion

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Describing positive virtues and actions displayed by men as manly or manful has gone out of vogue because of our society’s increasing emphasis on gender neutrality. While I agree that both men and women can strive to be courageous, resolute, and disciplined, I think there’s something to be said about qualifying a virtue or action as manly or manful that inspires men to live up to that ideal. Unlike women, men are (generally) more sensitive to status — particularly to their status in regards to whether they’re a man or not. Most young men want those around them to see them as men and they’ll go to great lengths to conform to the norms their culture and society sets for earning that title.

Many of you might think it’s stupidly archaic that men care about whether they’re manly or not, and they just shouldn’t give a rip. But I’m a pragmatist. Men have always cared about their status as men and probably always will. Even when men say they don’t care about manliness, they usually couch it in a way that shows that they’re actually more manly because they don’t care about being manly! They try to defeat gender normativity with… gender normativity. Hubba-wha?

I’d argue that instead of trying to convince men not to care (which is a losing battle), we’d be better served reviving the classical meaning of these manly descriptors to help inspire men to strive for virtue and excellence. If we want men to be morally courageous and honorable and compassionate, talk about these virtues as being manly courage, manly honor, and manly compassion. You get the idea.

And as we’ve discussed countless times on the site and in our books, I think it’s possible to describe an action or virtue as manly while recognizing that men don’t have a monopoly on these virtues and actions. As ancient literature and writings have shown, both men and women can strive for the same virtues, we just often attain them and express them in different ways.

So here’s to bringing back manly language!

Just don’t get too carried away with it. You don’t have to put manly in front of every damn thing you think is good. That will just ruin it for the rest of us. Use some manly discretion.

Oh yeah, and stay manly.

 

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Editor’s note: All the quotes above, unless otherwise cited, come from various books from the 19th and early 20th centuries. If you’re interested in further reading, they can all be found for free on Google Books.

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Steve November 25, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Interestingly, the original meaning of the word “man” in Old English wasn’t gender specific, but just meant “person”. This aspect is reflected in the language of old texts like the King James Bible, which use “man” in the way we would use “person” today.

The Anglo-Saxons referred to a female person as a “womb-man” or “woman”, as they had wombs. Males were called, awesomely enough, “weapon-men”, both because they carried a weapon and had a figurative one between their legs.

2 Jarod November 25, 2013 at 11:23 pm

Being brought up in rural Kentucky and in and around rodeos, I have always loved the term “Cowboy Up”.

3 Kevin November 25, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Great piece. Thanks.

The problem with “man up” – well, the main problem, anyway, as there are many – is that it’s pretty much synonymous with “be an adult,” and, as you say, is often used in a shaming capacity. So it’s applying masculinity to actions that should be gender-neutral – taking responsibility, apologizing when necessary, etc.

And because those things are (and should be) gender-neutral, using “man up” to shame someone does double-duty dickishness: It implies that only men should be adults (and therefore shoulder all responsibility in any given situation) and relieves women of the need to do so (thus infantilizing them).

I have every interest in being a responsible and upstanding man. I have no interest in always having to be the Dad because I’m a dude, just as I’m sure no woman wants to be treated like a child because she’s a woman.

So yeah, let’s leave “man up” behind.

(Also: Ultimately, every man gets to decide for himself what being a man is. Telling a guy to “man up” is basically another way of demanding that he conform to your standard of masculinity, which I’m not cool with.)

4 Philip November 26, 2013 at 12:09 am

@Kevin

I…don’t think you read the piece. This is not about assigning masculinity to certain actions, but assigning certain actions of character to masculinity. This is not a “gender-neutral” subject.

(Slight tangent: the word “human” completely suffices for what our over-educated society means by “gender-neutral.” So yeah, let’s leave “gender-neutral” behind.)

In fact, Bret even goes so far as to provide an example of how this doesn’t work in a non gender specific setting. We would be much more sensible people if we recognized the clear and demonstrable reality of the differences between men and women. While general truths obviously exist – see above for my point about the word “human” – men and women do not take responsibility or apologize in the same way. And…that’s exactly what Bret is saying.

Lastly, I’m wondering if those who exhort other men to “Man Up” fail to conform to your standard of masculinity?

5 Will November 26, 2013 at 12:22 am

Sadly, most “man caves” are actually boy caves…

6 Rico November 26, 2013 at 5:32 am

I wouldn’t even say “man up” means “be an adult” – it’s more akin to “do something against your own self interest.” Which *can* be noble, but as has been pointed out, it’s far more often used as female shaming language.

7 Patrick November 26, 2013 at 6:41 am

Sorry, but I can’t agree with this. By the very action of utilizing gender-specific language to understand virtues such as bravery and excellency, you exclude the genders not included in your language. Virtue isn’t gender specific, and neither should our language about it be (even if the origins of the word are). These classical ideas you’re so attached to are set up that way because the classical ideas about women viewed them as the weaker sex. Did you know Aristotle viewed women as the weaker sex because of menstruation? The only exception to this rule might be found in the myths of the Amazons, but even then, these women were viewed as some sort of stranger Other, something to be feared rather than honored (not unlike the way men fear feminists today). Anytime that women began to exhibit supposedly “manly” virtues, men did all they could to put a stop to it, or it would take a man to validate the woman’s actions. This whole idea that the genders attain and express virtue in different ways stinks of some sort of “separate but equal” division of the genders, and I think that this attempt to reclaim manliness for men is setting back the progress society has made in viewing women as human beings.

8 Dylan November 26, 2013 at 7:01 am

@Brett and Kate Mckay,

Just wanted to say thank you for such great articles. As a young man that’s just gone through a long-term relationship breakup and working on a ground up rebuild this site has been truly instrumental in self-progression. I don’t believe I speak alone when I say thank you from the younger generation’s of men who everyday gain a deeper insight, self-awareness and understanding from your work. Keep it up, from Australia.

9 Ben November 26, 2013 at 7:06 am

I adore this website.

Viz. ‘man up’, I particularly enjoyed this article’s exploration and summary dismissal of the phrase. The only kind of usage I’ve seen it put use to here in the UK is as an exhortation to stop being soppy. For example, at university, where drinking was a sport, if summonsed by the collective to chin a pint, anybody exhibiting reluctance would be instructed to ‘man up’. Likewise, somebody complaining excessively about some kind of injury, illness or what have you, is implored to do the same. Here, I really think it means pipe down, stop being a wuss and get on with it.

This is all well and good, as a succinct bark of ‘man up’ can convey well-spirited disapproval, but also a sincere desire for the individual ‘manning down’ to succeed in re-directing the trajectory of his virility. Yet chronic overuse have sullied the worth of ‘man up’ as a fixed phrase, and a phenomenon that, while an element of this overuse, is deplorable to a unique degree, is the churlish delight with which less fleshed-out minds have leapt upon it and persist in deploying snarks of ‘man up’ at every single inapt opportunity. This is most often perpetrated by silly boys and silly girls, puerile not in years but in substance: late to the party, they leap upon a worthy and useful inside joke, and ransack it of dignity, thinking they are both hilarious and original.

The tragic consequence of this depravity is that ‘man up’ has been leeched of its manfulness, and I am therefore in complete agreement with this author when he admonishes against its further use.

10 Chris November 26, 2013 at 7:17 am

Very interesting piece. I especially enjoyed placing the terms in their proper context…that’s important for understanding. I would, however, point out the anachronism of referring to a classical Greek ideal with the (later) Latin “sin qua non.”

11 El Marko November 26, 2013 at 7:39 am

I suppose in a heated political exchange, an appropriate response would not be “Woman up”, but rather “I will agree to ‘man up’ if you will agree to act like a lady”. But politics is so very bitter at times.

12 Brian November 26, 2013 at 7:43 am

I enjoyed the whole article.

In response to “man up” needing to be left in the past simply because it promotes gender stereotypes seems a little short sighted. I find many of the classic stereotypes to still hold true today, even as society tries to homogenize gender and accepts the exceptions to the stereotypes as being reasons the stereotypes don’t hold at all. Perhaps revisiting the definition of a stereotype might be called for but to toss it out completely for political correctness I feel drags the concept down strictly to gender itself. To “man up” holds a specific conceptual idea and just because modern day society pushes to redefine masculinity doesn’t change the basis of the concept. Maybe you don’t meet the standards of what the ages have defined as masculinity that doesn’t change it it just means you don’t meet it. A person can have both masculine and feminine attributes and in some situations a masculine attribute suits something more than a feminine attribute. In that case one should “man up”.

13 James Tollison November 26, 2013 at 8:02 am

We may want to drop the phrase “man up”, but what our society desperately needs is a counteractive to the idea that women are supposed to be the leaders in adult behavior. All anyone has to do is watch commercials–it’s always the women who are adults, knowledgeable, and responsible. The men are just overgrown kids, and ignorant as bricks. And does anyone remember hearing growing up that “the girl has to set the standards in a dating relationship”? We have to teach boys that they are to be the responsible ones, everywhere, and in everything. Virtue–in all its meaning–desperately needs to be taught to those on the way to becoming men.

14 Jim Collins November 26, 2013 at 8:09 am

Esteemed Men and Women,

We have a fine example of the power of language in black Americans insisting that they are not “boys” and “girls” but men and women. In any cultural battle, planting your banner on the high ground of language is a victory.

Regards,

Jim Collins

15 Big Jim Cole November 26, 2013 at 8:45 am

I have seen the systematic effeminization of the American Male progress since the 1970′s. Few of you were around back then so you did not notice “the switch”. Ask yourself, Why would all forms of media start trying to weaken the strong male role models that were present prior to this time? I know why, but since this website promotes logic and deduction I will leave the question open for those who may wish to pursue this premise.

16 John November 26, 2013 at 8:52 am

“These days man is generally only used to designate a person’s gender.”

You should use the more accurate term sex. The term gender, more appropriately used for various parts of language, has been pushed on us specifically to convince us that a person’s sex is a social construct, like the gender of a word, and therefore changeable. When coupled with modern philosophies such as Mills, a person’s sex becomes just another social imposition inimical to individual determinism, now called liberty. So you see, using the term gender when sex is meant is the very disease that this blog seeks to cure: the emasculation of men.

17 David Y November 26, 2013 at 9:35 am

Excellent article Brett and Kate.

Manliness, manly, manful are good words that need to return to our lexicon in their true meaning.

Man up would be fine if it were used as originally intended as meaning I/we need to get out there and do what is needed to get the job done. But, I don’t like it so much as a way of shaming men or advertising products than don’t make you look very manly(like the hair gel ad you showed).

18 Rachel November 26, 2013 at 9:38 am

I suppose I’ll take a lot of heat for this but I do believe men and women are separate but equal, although this is mostly manifested in our physical characteristics but science has demonstrated that there are also differences in our mental processes (the brain, after all, is biological, as much as we want to believe it’s some mystical separate entity, it resides within the physical body). This was an interesting television episode from the NatGeo program Brain Games which highlighted the differences between male and female brains: http://braingames.nationalgeographic.com/episode/7/

While I’ve never been called “ladylike,” I certainly wouldn’t object to it, nor to being called “womanly.” To me, “manly,” is a compliment, while “unmanly” is an insult (I generally only use it to describe men who do not keep their word). I also think that “gentlemanly” is a nice compliment for a man. I don’t know whether the sexes attain and express virtue in different ways. I do tend to value the same virtues in either. At the same time, given my interest in self-defense, I think I’d judge a man who failed to defend his female companion against assault more harshly than I’d judge a woman who failed to defend her male companion against assault. I do not think men are inherently more brave than woman although I guess that means that I judge women by a lower standard where bravery against sudden danger is concerned. I don’t think accepting differences between the sexes necessarily means that I’m a chauvinist, although I understand and accept that a lot of people would consider me so.

19 Jerrod November 26, 2013 at 10:05 am

I love this site and these blogs, but I have to respectfully disagree. I think “man up” can be used a form of accountability. You’re telling someone to dig deeper. Some people need a gentle form of encouragement, and some need a blunt jab to wake them up. If a man is refusing to be a father to his child, man up. If he is thinking about leaving his wife because their in a rough spot, instead of putting the work in and fighting for his marriage, man up. An athlete doesn’t feel like they have enough energy left to play in overtime, man up. We can say that it is sexist or demeaning all we want to, but the truth is that men and women are given different roles…it’s biblical. I’m sure someone will get on here and tell me that even the Bible is sexist and fake or whatever, but the there’s no denying that the only ones that have changed the meaning of manliness is a morally declining culture. Men aren’t men anymore, but they should be. My great-grandfather died at 84, still working and farming. I saw him go out and work sick all day at the age of 78+. Now, men get the sniffles and they lay on the couch all day. He always said, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to.” He was right. I believe men aren’t the same because they have refused to “man up.” They cower in adversity. I think “man up” simply means, “Do what you know a man is supposed to do.” A man shoud be moral, be a good husband and father, provider, and worker.

20 Nick November 26, 2013 at 10:08 am

In regards to the conclusion; manliness is like underwear, you need to have it but you shouldn’t show it off to everyone

21 porkchop November 26, 2013 at 11:06 am

‘Man up’ for ‘grow up’, such foolishmnent makes me throw up. Man, manly, manful, manipulate, manage… such delightful terms. Man-ness is what man-ness is: denial does not negate, nor does pretense impart import.
An understanding of language resolves most of life’s problems; ‘murse’ is stupid-ese for wonderfully and simply descriptive term ‘bag’ or ‘satchel’ and, if conspiracists are to be believed, likely coined in an effort to further effeminate humanity.

In closing, a satifactory response to someone -man, woman, or child- using ‘man up’ in the perjorative would be to respond along the lines of ‘…when you stop being a (pronounced ‘uh’, and pause briefly for emphasis) that way.’ All listening will supply their own adjective without you having actually said anything unmanly, gentle or otherwise.

best regards,

22 Morgan November 26, 2013 at 11:26 am

“Man up” and the subsequent “cowboy up” both annoy me. They’re annoying terms. I find them alarmingly juvenile, most of the time they’re used less as a “be a man, take responsibility, toughen up” and more of a “dude stop being a pussy”. It’s just another frat boy term.

And holy hell, I can’t believe I’m seeing so many misandry-based comments. Boo hoo, women get attention and are treated like adults. We live in a very patriarchal society that DOES mistreat women in many, many, many ways. Guys, misandry isn’t a thing. It’s just a way to pass the buck and play this blame game. Be more manful, learn some respect, take some responsibility and stop telling people to “man/cowboy up”. It makes you sound like a jagermeister drinking frat boy.

23 Matt November 26, 2013 at 12:38 pm

An interesting analysis of just what these masculine words. I’ll admit, I had “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” from Disney’s “Mulan,” running through my head while I read this.

I believe Brett & Kate made a good point in the different meanings of the older “manly,” “manful,” and “manliness” against our modern “man up” phrase. The biggest difference to me seems that the traditional words are all based on describing what makes a man, while “man up” focuses on what makes someone not a man.

In my personal experience, “man up” is purely an insult and tells someone they aren’t good enough for whatever role they are expected to fill. Yes using a shaming technique is a way to get teammates to pull their weight. However, I feel simply telling someone to “man up” communicates more you don’t think he can achieve the goal. Compare “Man up and fix the toilet” against “Be a man and fix the toilet.”
To me, the latter phrase is more a challenge while the former is simply a put-down.

Heck, look at the lyrics of “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” The chorus constantly repeats “be a man” and is challenging the recruits to learn their skills to their full potential. Maybe the writers were a little skewed by Mulan’s character (female trying to be manful), but the song still puts emphasis on achieving expectations rather than calling out shortcomings. I personally am much more inspired by someone saying “this is how a man behaves, now do it” than being told “you aren’t acting like a man, do this,” which is what “man up” has always implied to me.

24 Rachel November 26, 2013 at 2:39 pm

I don’t have any objection to “cowboy up” because I thought that was really only used by people who ride Western or are involved in raising stock or rodeo, that sort of thing. I think “buck up” is a better phrase than “man up,” personally, but perhaps I’m just wont to use that term myself, as a gentler way of saying, “there’s nothing else for it so you just have to suck it up and get on with it.” I agree that “man up” sounds a bit juvenile nowadays, perhaps because it is a favorite phrase of television commercials aimed at the ManBroDude segment, but I am surprised at the objection to “cowboy up” (and perhaps “cowgirl up”?).

25 Alan November 26, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Loved this article. After reading some of the comments I can’t help but wonder “Why is modern society so hell-bent on neutralizing gender?!” Why is it not OK for a man to be a frickin man in all of our manly glory? I cerntainly want women to be full of their womanliness…nothing less attractive than a manly woman. I love my wife’s feminine beauty, especially when she flaunts it to me.

26 Alexander November 26, 2013 at 3:23 pm

This is a fantastic article that reminds us to remember manliness not only in deed, but in word as well. To Patrick, I would like to state that men and women are very separate and are in no way equal. They are very different beings, both wonderful in different respects, and to forget that is to diminish the beauty of them both.

27 Rory November 26, 2013 at 4:01 pm

The only problem I have with the term “man-up” is that it is used too commonly by men and women who have no idea what a man is or should be. A lot of men in college used to use the phrase when they were referring to drinking more alcohol at a party or when you had to work the next day and they wanted you to stay up until 5 taking shots. Also, many women use the term liberally when they are referring to men who do not call them back after a date or who “hit it and quit it” or whatever ill conceived idea that they think is a man. The truth is, most men and women have not been around real men before and instead have a false understanding of what one is and how they should act.

28 Evan S. November 26, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Why are people annoyed about the the lack of gender-neutral terms? This is a blog on manliness. Of course many of these virtues apply to women, but they take a different form for them. If a women wants to take on these attributes as described, I see no problem, but EVERY man has a responsibility to become the best man he can. This is not a gender-neutral site, so please don’t complain.

29 Rachel November 26, 2013 at 4:35 pm

It is a little disappointing to read Alexander’s comment that men and women are “in no way equal.” Maybe not in size and strength but certainly in intellect. I know that some AoM readers (hopefully the minority) believe women are “helpmeets” and inherently lesser creatures than men but I don’t think that’s the notion that AoM is trying to convey. I would gently encourage all AoM readers to consider to treat the women in their lives as intellectual equals unless clearly demonstrated to be otherwise.

30 Craig November 26, 2013 at 6:39 pm

One of the best blogs I’ve read on this site. In the 80′s it seemed like we had to apologize for being men. Thank goodness the tide has turned and Manly virtues are once again appreciated.

31 Mike Williams November 26, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Love it. The conclusions you draw on the subject are very succinct. My favourite part was: “hubba wha?”

32 Kammes November 26, 2013 at 10:30 pm

“Man up” is hilarious. I’ve only ever heard the phrase in jest to mean “be fearless, obedient, and -if required of you – asinine” (usually I see it as doing something unappealing for the individual but entertaining for the group he is with).

When my friends and I use it, it’s like the ultimate “come on, just do it!” encouragement. Ironically, if a man could resist the this taunt, he’ll appear more a man

33 Thomas H. November 26, 2013 at 11:16 pm

One of the terms I throw around with my friends is “Manscout”. I normally use it when around my friends who are boyscouts as a joke, but its become somewhat of a “rallying cry”. And a more encouraging way of saying man-up to each other, especially younger guys.

34 Akeempositive November 27, 2013 at 2:22 am

In regards to the gender neutrality, we ought to bear in mind the different roles of sexual hormones, remember, one make muscles, the other makes fat! It’s just biological to conclude, Men are meant to be stronger than women!

In regards to the virtues, yea, good virtues are for us all, regardless of what’s between the legs! But as it’s been said in the article and comments, they are expressed differently! Confidence to man’s taking the first move, while to woman, It’s saying Yea/Nah and meant it!

If Chauvianism should be a school of thought, its pioneer would undoubtedly be God! For in all things, He expects men to be repected(Sign of Superiority) and women to be loved and cared for!

Finally, since Women are Wombed-Men, telling the elites of them to “Man Up” will be well interpreted as “Live up to the expectations and standards of a wombed-Man whom you are” but to guide against the misinterpretation, let’s ask them to “Lady Up”!

So, let’s spare the gentlemen on this planet by keep reminding them to “Man Up”!

35 Roger November 27, 2013 at 2:29 am

As always, an excelent post that made me think a lot…
As long english is not my mother tongue and I don’t live in a country english-speaker it doesn’t affect me the same way but there are correspondence with spanish.
I could’nt agree more with the ancient greeks and romans, man is not what you have betwen your legs ( thas only makes you a male) man is a tittle, something you have to fight for and is the same with women

36 Mikey November 27, 2013 at 4:25 am

Men should not be ashamed to be men, or for being proud of what they believe is manly. Women never have to apologize for being women.
When women’s lib took over they had a clear picture and goal of what their role was. However men were not assigned a role in this new society. in the wake I believe society has spiraled out of control. This and a lack of fathers in young mens lives. This is not a jab at women but at the lack of men doing their job.
this is a similar effect as our founding fathers thought out our government and the rights of the accused. But failed to consider the rights of victims.If men and women work together to teach our children to be enlightened men this is fixable.

37 Daniel November 27, 2013 at 7:44 am

I was reading Montaigne this morning and, after having read this article, a passage jumped off the page:

“My tutor, who knows that he should fill his pupil’s mind as much – or rather more – with affection for virtue than with respect for it, will tell him that poets have the feelings of most common men. He will give him palpable proof that the gods have made it sweeter toil to approach to the chambers of Venus than those of Minerva. Then when the lad comes to be self-critical, and is offered the choice between Bradamante and Angelica as a mistress to be enjoyed – a natural, vigorous, spirited beauty, not manish but manly, in contrast to a soft, affected, delicate, and artificial one, the former dressed as a boy, with a glittering helmet on her head, the latter in girlish clothes and adorned with a pearl head-dress – his tutor will judge even his love to be a manly one if he differs entirely in his choice from the effeminate shepherd of Phrygia.”

*The shepherd is the mythological Paris, who chose Venus over Minerva, in order to receive Helen, the most beautiful woman alive.

38 JT Adamson November 27, 2013 at 10:36 am

Manly job!

Funny that you (AoM) published this the same day that I published on my blog (AoB) a brief and much less scholarly post on Manly Coffee.

http://amuseorbemused.com/manly_coffee/

Great stuff! I’m looking forward to more manly reading on your blog.

39 Jason November 27, 2013 at 10:45 am

Re: Man Up & want to say to a woman.

In situations where “man up” would be appropriate (or not according to your taste) I’ve told my wife to “suck it up buttercup.” I’ve also used it with when out mountain biking with my buddies. It didn’t go over well, but that wasn’t the phrase I used rather the context, nothing would have went over well.

I like “suck it up…” since it’s a bit playful and not too insulting. For times when I want to show I’m a bit more serious about your need to act like a responsible adult I usually just tell the person to act like an adult. People don’t like hearing that, but whatcha gonna do?

40 snowman8wa November 27, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Real men are created from within, deep within their souls. The Soul, a man’s heart, not his mind create the man; whether they be Good or Evil…….

“…Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul. [Ezekiel 3:20-21]
But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.” [Ezekiel 18:24]

“When good men stand, evil men are restrained. When good men sit idly by, evil men prevail. If we fail to stand against evil, we have no one to blame but ourselves when evil triumphs. The price of apathy is to be ruled by evil men.” -PLATO

41 Kammes November 28, 2013 at 3:34 am

I was unmanned today. A man greeted me and when I did not respond (my back was to him while I was busy typing out an email) he decided to say “I’m going to kill you”. I turned around, got in his face and demanded him to repeat what he said, waiting for him to apologize or back off. He just smirked and said he wasn’t talking to me… Being “unmanned”, this phrase just echoed within my mind over and over again as I fumed and thought about ways I could have kept my cool. This article helped me articulate this emotional rage state of being and now I am asking myself, what are the most common ways a man is unmanned by others? What are good defenses? How does one keep their cool when perceiving a threat or insult that borders on subtle tones? Any recommendations? Articles within this blog site or elsewhere that someone can suggest?

42 NB November 28, 2013 at 8:44 am

Very nice piece. I particularly liked the part about manliness as a virtue that encompasses and balances the other virtues. I think that’s an excellent way to think of it. Too many guys these days have a one-sided and unbalanced view of what is manly. Like the guys who scoff at the articles on clothes and grooming because “a real man doesn’t care what he looks like or what other people think of him”. Or guys who look down on admitting to physical or emotional pain because “a real man is tough”. Or guys who continue to pester a woman who has made her lack of interest clear because “a real man knows what he wants, and goes after it”.

That self-confidence, that toughness, and that persistence may well be necessary conditions of manliness, but they are not sufficient ones. It may be true that a “real man” is tough and self-confident and all that, but he also has to be compassionate and honest and respectful of others, or it just comes across as boorishness–or “bro-ishness”, which often amounts to much the same thing–rather than proper manliness. I like this idea of manliness as balance. It makes a good antidote to all those who equate “manliness” with “machismo”.

43 Buddy November 28, 2013 at 12:33 pm

The fact that this site even needs to exist is a prime example of how masculinity and manliness have been shamed and sidelined in today’s feminized society. It’s quite telling that feminists, the ones who claim to have pure motives, are oftentimes the ones using the term, “Man up.” Hundreds of years ago, manliness was a virtue which was more prevalent by default. If a man wasn’t manly, he wouldn’t survive. Nowadays our struggle is not with beasts and aggressors, but with a society which seeks a “soft kill” of all that which is manly.

44 Stephanie November 28, 2013 at 9:56 pm

my husband reads this site, and i pop in to check it out ever once in awhile. i hope our four sons become the kind of man their father is. (and that our four daughters find men equally as manly as their father!)
I loved the enumeration of manly virtue in Greek society – all of those qualities are what drew me to my husband, and why after 20 years he is still so incredibly attractive – Courage, valor and excellence on the battlefield, strong and bold, excellence, wisdom, justice, and temperance, self-control .

a man’s ability to “hold fast to the orders of reason about what he ought or ought not to fear in spite of pleasure and pain.” – is attainable and is as important to a man as virtue and beauty is to a woman.

45 Dom November 29, 2013 at 10:48 am

Great article and a great read. Thanks for going against the cultural grain in this article.

I am a pastor and reference your blog often. I resonate with your desire to see an unapologetic resurgence in manliness in our day and age.

46 Brandon November 30, 2013 at 7:02 pm

I propose the term “ma’am up.” It still has the whallop of man up, and retains the flow of the statement. I agree that “man up” has been weakend due to overuse, but in certain situations it still can be effective. Just not the way my generation has bastardized it along with 90% of the english language. (Generation Y.)

47 Vixen December 1, 2013 at 9:06 am

Reading this article as a woman turned me on. This is what women really want. Menly men! Sigh …. sadly, it is seriously lacking in our times. Men have become too soft.

48 SP December 1, 2013 at 2:50 pm

My favorite usage is from one of the greatest of men. His last words to his son were “Show yourself a man” His name was David and his son Solomon. I don’t have my Bible or I’d give an exact verse. Somewhere in 1st Kings?

49 Keith December 2, 2013 at 8:39 am

I agree that “cowboy up” and consequently “cowgirl up” are inane and annoying phrases. Just because you hang around rodeos doesn’t make you a cowboy or an authority on cowboys anymore that wearing a hubcap belt buckle or cowboy hat does. I figure these are the same nimrods who hang fake bull testicles from the back of their truck. I figure because they don’t have a set of their own.
I much prefer something like “suck it up, cupcake”.

50 Rachel December 2, 2013 at 4:07 pm

I did not realize people who don’t ride use “cowboy up” – naively, I thought it was just a term used to tell everyone to tack up (or whatever the Western equivalent is) because departure on horseback is imminent. But because I ride English style there is no equivalent. I agree that “manly” is actually a sexy term, at least for this heterosexual woman! I tend to use “buck up” instead of “suck it up” because some people think the latter sounds too mean. I’ve got no issue with “ma’am up” but the problem is that a lot of women are insulted by being called “ma’am” because they say it makes them feel old. I don’t know how anyone in their right mind could possible find “ma’am” or “sir” to be an insult, as I have always considered it a respectful form of address, but that’s why store clerks call me “miss” instead of “ma’am” – to me, it sounds like they think I’m a little girl (“young miss”) but because other women freak out at being called “ma’am,” it’s fallen into disuse. I guess a lot of women want to deny their age but sheesh, if I can’t be called “ma’am” at 41, then when am I finally going to deserve that honorific?

51 Wes Stone December 10, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Late getting into this one, great article. How about we try this, just for manliness sake? Stop all this silly, snarky, girly arguing about which of you can find the most ambiguos, metaphysical meaning from the article.

State your case in 25 words or less (which I have now violated), then shut up when someone disagrees with you.

Oh, and you forgot “Grow a pair”.

52 Phillip December 11, 2013 at 8:31 pm

From Chap. XXII of Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912)

“Professor Porter strove manfully to suppress his own emotions but the strain upon his nerves and weakened vitality were too much for him,and at length, burying his face in the girl’s shoulder, he sobbed quietly like a tired child.”

53 jerry December 16, 2013 at 7:46 pm

This is what manly is. If your family is stranded on a dark snowy road you want a manly man to come along. If he does you have nothing to worry about.

54 rlsmith December 19, 2013 at 5:43 pm

I really dislike the term ‘man up’, mainly because it’s used by little girls to provoke men into shameful actions they want to see. My generic response is ‘..man up..woman down”

55 Mark February 1, 2014 at 12:49 am

These days, being a man means to conduct oneself as an asshole at all times, drink beer to the point of incoherence at any given night, and “enjoying” anything that has harsh disgusting flavor just because man dammit.

This article should get out to the world.

56 Sam February 14, 2014 at 7:16 pm

Great article Mr. Mckay! I do have a question to pose to you and my fellow gentlemen. A few evenings ago my girlfriend and I were enjoying a night out when the conversation turned to being a gentlemen, and she posed a very simple, yet pertinent, question that I, frankly, couldn’t answer at the time. The question was this, “Why do men act like gentlemen? For what purpose?” Now, mind you, my girlfriend is no feminest or anti-manhood type, she was simply posing a question that I would like to know the answer to. Why do we act like gentlemen? Is it to impress women? Is it to affirm our manhood? Or is it one of the only lasting ties to a greater time when men were men? When boys changed into men, not stagnate in perpetual boyhood? I will always be gentlemen to any and all women. But I would like to know why you, Mr. Mckay and fellow men, think we are so inclined to be gentlemen?

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