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Exploring the definition of masculinity

What’s the meaning of masculinity [Definitions]

The biggest reason why I started this website is to discover what masculinity is and share some of those discoveries with you, the reader. I think now is the time to take a first step on that journey. The topic of masculinity is very broad and impossible to cover in one article however.

Contents


So in this article I will start by exploring the definition of masculinity. What are the different definitions, antonyms and synonyms? I’ll also take a look at what the origins of the word “masculine” are. It seems to me those things are important to research first, so we can have a clear view of what we’re talking about and discover what the next step on the journey will be.

That means I’ll keep opinion out of this article as much as I can, as that’ll be reserved for future articles.

Take a look at some other articles on this website like; What type of man wants their own man cave?

 Let’s get into it and see what the word masculine means.

Dictionary definition


To discover what something means, what do you do? You look it up in a dictionary.

There are some small differences between the big dictionaries. Take a look at the definitions given by a couple of the most popular dictionaries.

Cambridge: “Characteristics that are traditionally thought to be typical of or suitable for men.”
Collins:

“Masculine qualities and things relate to or are considered typical of men, in contrast to women.”
Oxford:
“Having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men.”
Dictionary.com:
Having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, as strength and boldness.”
Merriam-Webster:
Having qualities appropriate to or usually associated with a man.”

Observations

All of the dictionaries quoted here describe masculine as having characteristics or qualities that are traditionally ascribed to men.

Qualities and characteristics can point to things that are both appearance and behavior/traits.

Oxford is the only one that explicitly lists appearance as a factor.

Collins hints towards masculine being the opposite of feminine.

Suggested post: What are masculine traits and behavior?

Synonyms


Taking a look at synonyms is another way to gain understanding of a word.

Merriam-Webster: Male, manlike, manly, mannish, man-size, virile
TheSaurus.com: Macho, manly, Muscular

Antonyms


Thesaurus.com: Weak, afraid, cowardly, fearful, meek, reticent, retiring, shy, timid, feminine
Merriam-Webster: Antonyms: Unmanly, Unmasculine.
Near antonyms: Metrosexual, unmacho, effeminate, girlish, sissified, sissy, feminine, womanish, womanlike, womanly, emasculated, impotent, weakened, androgynous, neuter.

Observations

Antonyms can be useful to look at because you can pretty much rule out what a word DOESN’T mean. Words can be used in slightly different ways, as we’ve seen from the slightly different definitions. Looking at antonyms makes clear what a word definitely doesn’t mean. In a way it creates borders for the use of a word.

It’s interesting that the two different resources list completely different words as antonyms for the same word.

Thesaurus

Thesaurus.com gives a lot of words that have a negative connotation for everyone. I don’t think anyone can argue that “weak” and “cowardly” are negative traits for every human regardless of gender. Thesaurus also lists feminine as an antonym of masculine. That’s interesting because being feminine isn’t universally negative like being a coward is.

Merriam-Webster

Merriam-Webster is a bit different. As pure antonyms it just lists the “un-“ versions of masculine and manly. This doesn’t really tell us much.

Merriam-Webster does have an interesting section called: “Near antonyms”. Near antonyms are not the exact opposite of a word but are near as the name suggests. In this section it lists some terms that could be construed as derogatory and some that could be positive depending on the person.

These words seem to focus a little more on masculine being the opposite of feminine or female. Keep in mind these are “near antonyms” so they cannot be seen as purely the opposite of masculine.

Word origins


The word masculine has its roots in Latin and made its way through old French into the English language. In English the word has been in use since circa the middle of the 14th century. Let’s take a look at the online etymology dictionary for a bit more complete explanation.

From www.etymonline.com

“mid-14c., “belonging to the male grammatical gender;” late 14c., “of men, of male sex,” from Old French masculin “of the male sex” (12c.), from Latin masculinus “male, of masculine gender,” from masculus “male, masculine; worthy of a man,” diminutive of mas (genitive maris) “male person, male,” a word of unknown origin. Meaning “having the appropriate qualities of the male sex, physically or mentally: Manly, virile, powerful” is attested by 1620s. As a noun, “masculine gender,” from c. 1500.”

So the word masculine comes from the Latin; “mas” -> “masculus” -> “masculinus” -> “masculin” -> “masculine”

Looking at this, it’s clear that the word masculine is derived from the Latin word for male and has meant being of the male gender for a long time. In modern times the definition seems to have shifted to mean:

“Having characteristics and qualities that are traditionally associated with a man.”

Here we can see that in modern times being male and being masculine have been separated. Where in a previous era, being masculine was just being a male, currently being male doesn’t necessarily make you masculine.

Suggested post: 9 Things that make a man Masculine.

Times are changing

It seems to me there is certainly some truth in the shifting of the definition. If I look around me it certainly looks like being a male doesn’t mean you behave in a masculine way. And vice versa, being a female doesn’t mean you behave in a feminine way.

Suggested post: Is Masculinity a social construct?

What does Masculinity mean?


The definition of masculinity is difficult to catch in one quote. Masculinity is a certain set of characteristics, behavior, appearance and qualities traditionally seen in men. While masculinity is partly the opposite of femininity it is more than that. Also, what people think of as masculinity has changed over time and isn’t the same as before.

Looking at the antonyms was pretty interesting and shows in my opinion that masculine is not exactly the opposite of feminine.

Masculinity is partly the opposite of feminine but not completely. Since words like weak and cowardly are listed as antonyms but those traits are not necessarily feminine, it seems that you can’t say they are completely opposed to each other.

As said, it’s difficult to catch the whole meaning of masculinity in one sentence or even paragraph. To get a better understanding, feel free to take a look at some of the other posts on this site.

Further exploration of Masculinity


Diving into the definitions has given me some idea of where to go next. Writing this article has raised the following questions: