October 31, 2004

Femina floresiensis?

Jemima Lewis' observation that female "hobbits" are being given short shrift, recapitulated by Mark, is well taken, but the implicit opposition between Homo floresiensis and Femina floresiensis is not. It presupposes that homo means "man" as opposed to "woman", which it does not. Latin homo means "human being, person". It is gender-neutral. The word that is opposed to femina "woman" is vir "man". Homo appears to those who don't know Latin as a male-specific term because English conflates "male human being" and "human being" in man, but this is a fact about English, not about Latin.

The same is true in Greek. γυνή [gyne] "woman" is opposed to ἀνήρ [aner] (combining form [andro]) "man". ἄνΘρωπος [antʰro:pos] means "human being", without reference to gender.

Update: Gene Buckley points out that one newspaper, the New York Times, did depict females in the illustration accompanying this article.

Posted by Bill Poser at October 31, 2004 10:08 AM