A Linguistic Analysis Of The #DontMancriminate Campaign

First thing in the morning, I get handed an article full of memes bearing the faces of male celebrities (who I assume didn’t consent to have their images used) and the hashtag #DontMancriminate. They recount grievances from what I assume to be men’s rights-type people about what they see as unfair treatment of men. Instead of analyzing and, if necessary, rebutting those grievances for the x-millionth time on the Internet, I’ve decided to take issue with the linguistic problems of the word “mancriminate.”

I pulled out the trusty Oxford American Dictionary – the actual book – and looked up the root and prefix. The prefix “man” tends, according to the O.A.D., to mean humans in general – in Old English, it was the word for “humans,” with “wer” and “wif” meaning “a male person” and “a female person,” respectively. Ergo, “mankind” means “all humans,” “manpower” means “the general labor force.” So, so far we have a word that, if it was linguistically correct, would be referring to all human beings.

Unfortunately, from there, the etymology goes awry. This is obviously supposed to be a play on the word “discriminate,” but the problem is that “discriminate” is derived from the Latin “discriminat,” to distinguish between; and “discrimen,” meaning “distinction,” and from “discernere,” to discern. So “-criminate” on its own is neither a suffix nor a root, at least not in the word “discriminate.” It’s part of the original Latin “discriminat.”

I thought I’d take a leap of faith, though, and look up the word “incriminate.” It turns out that “incriminate” does break down into a prefix and root, the original Latin “incriminat” meaning “accused,” and being derived from “in-,” meaning “into,” and “crimen,” meaning “crime.” So, if we’re keeping track, “incriminate” means “into crime,” as in to incriminate means to sort of “put” someone into crime, I suppose.

On that logic, then, “mancriminate,” if we’re going to mix origins, which I don’t think is unheard of, could possibly be a word. The trouble there is that “man” is not, like “into” or “in,” a preposition. It can be a verb, meaning “to work at, run,” or “to operate,” or “provide someone to fill” (as in “the position was manned by”), or “to fortify the spirits or courage of” (the O.A.D. uses the example “he manned himself with dauntless air” from the poem “The Lady of the Lake” by Sir Walter Scott). So, mixing origins, “mancriminate” could mean “to operate crime,” “to work in crime,” or “to encourage crime.” It’s really inelegant as a word, though, and it has nothing to do with gender or gender identity.

But. I will concede that it’s not just aggrieved men who do this kind of thing. After all, it was Rebecca Solnit who made up the slang term “mansplain,” which by all linguistic rights doesn’t make any sense, either. If we were going with that logic, though, you’d have to note that “mansplain” means “a man explaining things in a condescending way,” which puts the man as the actor in the verb. It makes sense that way, with “man” as a prefix (of sorts). “Mancriminate” winds up sounding like “a man discriminating,” so it may also be useful to the feminist community, quite, I’m sure, against the wishes of its creator.

The intention, I take it, was to have a word meaning “to discriminate against men.” Men are passive in that definition, though, so I think we have to rethink the word structure to reflect something being done to men rather than men doing something. I looked into the word “misandry” for this purpose – which, by the way, has no verb form, but we’re in the business of making up words here, anyway – which breaks down into “miso,” meaning “hating,” and “aner” and “andr-,” meaning men.

We’re not talking about hating men, though. We’re talking about hurting men materially. So, in fact, the prefix “dis-” might be of use here (sad that that’s the part of the word they chose to steamroll with “man,” useful as it is): It means “to express negation,” “denoting reversal or absence,” “denoting separation,” “denoting “expulsion,” “denoting removal,” “expressing completeness or intensification of an unpleasant or unattractive action.” All of which, I think, the creators of the word “mancriminate” meant to express but failed to express accurately.

In lieu of “mancriminate,” may I humbly suggest:


(The suffix “-er,” according to the O.A.D., “forming frequentative verbs.”)

Which concludes my investigation of what I think is the most important and significant problem in this whole #DontMancriminate campaign, because the grievances aired by the campaign are fairly negligible, aren’t held by the vast majority of men, and have been analyzed and rebutted widely elsewhere. My request to aggrieved men, in the future, is to make their argument more clearly and cohesively, so that we can all have a clear, cohesive, and hopefully respectful discussion about these issues. And linguists, feel free to give feedback on this very important matter.


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