Wednesday, 13 June 2012


The Old English wifman meant "female human" (werman meant "male human". Man or mann had a gender neutral meaning of "human", corresponding to Modern English "one" or "someone". However in around 1000AD "man" started to be used more to refer to "male human", and in the late 1200s began to inevitably displace and eradicate the original word "werman").The medial labial consonants coalesced to create the modern form "woman"; the initial element, which meant "female," underwent semantic narrowing to the sense of a married woman ("wife").

Symbol of the planet and Roman goddess Venus, also used to indicate the female sex.
A very common Indo-European root for woman, *gwen-, is the source of English queen (Old English cwēn primarily meant woman, highborn or not; this is still the case in Danish, with the modern spelling kvinde, as well as in Swedish kvinna), as well as gynaecology (from Greek γυνή gynē), banshee fairy woman (from Irish bean woman, sí fairy) and zenana (from Persian زن zan). The Latin fēmina, whence female, is likely from the root in fellāre (to suck), referring to breastfeeding.

The symbol for the planet Venus is the sign also used in biology for the female sex. It is a stylized representation of the goddess Venus's hand mirror or an abstract symbol for the goddess: a circle with a small equilateral cross underneath (Unicode: ♀). The Venus symbol also represented femininity, and in ancient alchemy stood for copper. Alchemists constructed the symbol from a circle (representing spirit) above an equilateral cross (representing matter).