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A woman is a female human, in contrast to an adult male, who is a man.

The term woman (irregular plural: women) is usually used for an adult, with the term girl being the usual term for a female child or adolescent. However, the term is also sometimes used for a female human regardless of age, as in phrases like "women's rights".

Etymology


The English term "man" (from Proto-Germanic mannaz "man, person") and words derived therefrom can designate any or even all of the human race regardless of their gender or age. This is indeed the oldest usage of "man". In Old English the words wer and wyf (also wæpman and wifman) were what was used to refer to "a man" and "a woman" respectively, and "man" was gender neutral. In Middle English man displaced wer as term for "male human", whilst wyfman (which eventually evolved into woman) was retained for "female human". "Man" does continue to carry its original sense of "Human" however, resulting in an asymmetry sometimes criticized as sexist. * (See also Womyn.) The symbol for the planet Venus is the sign also known in biology for the female sex: a stylized representation of the goddess Venus's hand mirror: a circle with a small 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 a cross (representing matter).

Terminology


The English language's original word for "woman" was Old English wīf, akin to German Weib; it later became the modern word "wife." The modern word "woman" etymologically derives from wīfmann, with the addition of mann, "person", from Germanic mannaz. This formation is peculiar to English. The equivalents for "man" in Old English were wer (a cognate of Latin vir, "man") and wǣpnedmann, literally "weaponed person". As previously mentioned, the term man continues to carry its original sense of "Human", though this usage results in an asymmetry which is sometimes criticized as sexist. The word girl originally meant "young person of either sex"; it was only around the beginning of the 16th century that it came to mean specifically a female child. Nowadays girl is also often used colloquially to refer to a young or unmarried woman. Since the early 1970s, feminists have challenged such usage, and today, using the word in the workplace (as in office girl) is typically considered inappropriate in the United States and United Kingdom because it implies a view of women as infantile. The use remains commonplace in several other English-speaking countries. Conversely, in certain non-Western cultures which link family honor with female virginity, the word girl is still used to refer to a never-married woman; in this sense it is used in a fashion roughly analogous to the obsolete English maid or maiden. Referring to an unmarried female as woman can, in such a culture, imply that she is sexually experienced, which would be an insult to her family. In more informal settings, the use of girl to refer to an adult female is also common practice in certain usage (such as girls' night out), even among elderly women. In this sense, girl may be considered to be the analogue to the British word bloke for a man. Some regard non-parallel usages, such as men and girls, as sexist. A number of other derogatory terms for women are also in common usage. There are various words used to refer to the quality of being a woman. The term "womanhood" merely means the state of being a woman; "femininity" is used to refer to a set of supposedly typical female qualities associated with a certain attitude to gender roles; "womanliness" is like "femininity", but is usually associated with a different view of gender roles; "femaleness" is a general term, but is often used as shorthand for "human femaleness"; "distaff" is an archaic adjective derived from women's conventional role as a spinner, now used only as a deliberate archaism; "muliebrity" is a "neologism" (derived from the Latin) meant to provide a female counterpart of "virility", but used very loosely, sometimes to mean merely "womanhood", sometimes "femininity", and sometimes even as a collective term for women.

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