Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Humane vs. Human

Humane vs. Human

I find it intriguing that human behavior isn’t always humane, at least by my understanding of humane. Like so many things, humane is in the eye of the beholder.

Both human & humane have their roots in the Latin word humus, or of the earth (as opposed to of the heavens). Before the Latin made its way to English, though, it passed through French, becoming humain or umain.

English speakers in the 1500s used the adjectives human & humane interchangeably. Meanings included:

-of man
-having qualities befitting human beings

After a couple of centuries, though, the two adjectives bifurcated. Humane began to mean having qualities befitting human beings, while human meant of man. Interestingly, even after the bifurcation, the opposite of humane can either be inhumane or inhuman.

Some words closely related to humane & human include:

humanity (1300s) meaning kindness or graciousness
(1400s) meaning human nature or human form
(1450s) meaning the human race

humankind (1640s) meaning mankind

humanitarian (1794) meaning one who affirms the humanity of Christ, but denies his pre-existence & divinity
(1824) meaning a philanthropist who advocates or practices human action to solve social problems

humanoid (1906) was the brand name of a type of cow’s milk the purveyors claimed was closer to human milk than the milk sold by competitors
(1920) meaning an anthropological hybrid
(1940) meaning having the appearance of being human

Good readers, what in this post did you find most unlikely, startling, or just plain weird? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the OED, Wordnik, & Etymonline.


  1. "Humanitarian" astonished me. I was under the impression that it meant only "one who does good deeds for the benefit of humanity"; how interesting that it's also a theological term!

  2. Fascinating that the root of all these words is "humus." So human means "earthling." But certainly not all earthlings are humane. And I love the source of the word "humanoid." An advertising slogan!

  3. Ahoy Rachel6 & Anne,
    It's such an honor & pleasure to cavort with fellow humans who appreciate & can be astonished by language. Thanks for joining me in my wordmongerliness.

  4. Humanitarian: One who affirms the humanity if Christ but not his divinity. That is so interesting. I know a lot more humanitarians if you use that definition than if defined as those who work to solve social problems. Unfortunately...I guess. We humans sure manage to create a lot of social problems. I love that Humanoid was a brand of milk! Fascinating. As usual!