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I am doing a paper on the origins of the word 'human', and how the meaning has changed...

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pdoces | (Level 1) Honors

Posted February 9, 2013 at 6:02 AM via web

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I am doing a paper on the origins of the word 'human', and how the meaning has changed throughout history.  Any help would be appreciated.

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gretc | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted February 11, 2013 at 3:38 AM (Answer #1)

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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "human" comes from the Anglo-Norman word "humeigne" which eventually changed into the Middle French word "humaine" or "humayn". It first appears in print around 1450 in Geoffroy de la Tour Landry's text "The Book of the Knight of La Tour-Landry Compiled for the Instruction of His Daughters". This excerpt speaks of "all humaigne lynage" or what we would now think of as 'human lineage'. At this time, the etymological root of "human" appears to be defined in contrast to animals and other extinct members of the Homo genus.

However, by around 1475, the roots of "human" began to differentiate the meaning from that which would denote deities. In "The Life of St. Anne", the example of "oure nature humayne" clearly contrasts with that of sanctified persons, such as the honored and glorified figure of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.

"Human" began to take part in adjectival descriptions, such as "human-hearted" and "human-sized" as early as 1711.

 

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