"Men and women" Huh? Whatever happened to just plain "people"?

What are your opinions on this usage:

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women in our armed forces.”

“Senator, we have the full support of the men and women in our department.”

“These are the men and women who have contributed so much.”

When did the phrase “men and women”, meaning “people”, creep into the language? Why do men and women use it? Do men and women think it’s less sexist or something than “people”? What do the men and women at Straight Dope think?

I think it’s used because it looks inclusive and politically correct. It isn’t any more inclusive than “people” (since I don’t see them thanking the service dogs and robots), but the perception is there. Plus, what politician can use one word where three will do?


Maybe they’re hoping it sounds a bit more thoughtful and high-falutin’.

I think it simply sounds better. THe phrase “men and women” has a better cadence than the word “people”. Plus, whenever you use an “and” statement, you get a sense of more. For instance - “This thing and that thing” mentions two things. “A couple of things” mentions one set of (two) things.

I’m not arguing for or against, but one thing that should be pointed out: people includes children. If you are specifically excluding children, then men and women is acceptable, though wordy; adults is more economical.

KneadToKnow - But phrases like “People in our armed forces” and “People in our department” have qualifiers that exclude others, including children. It’s not just “people” in general, it’s restricted to those specific people that are part of a group.


Granted, StG, but that limitation does not apply to the OP’s third example.

More political blather. God, I hate them. I truly hate them. It’s like when they say, “at this point in time” rather than “now,” or “currently.” They all need to die.

I’ve often construed the use of the phrase “men and women” to bring attention to the fact that a particular group isn’t limited just to men. For example, during the intro to the TV show COPS, the announcer uses the phrase “the men and women of law enforcement”. This seems to be a subtle way of them saying “yes, there are also women who work in law enforcement.”

KneadToKnow - But if you use a phrase like “these” (“these are the men and women who have contributed so much”) it assumes you are talking again about a specific group of people, rather than just people in general. An example would be " I’d like to recognize the people who built the new playground at Tinkerbell Park. These are the people who contributed so much sweat and love to help a child’s dream come true." Their age or gender isn’t relevant to the fact that they accomplished something. But again, “The men and women” sounds more like rhetoric, like oratorical speech, than “the people”. Of course, one of our nation’s most famous documents begins “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…”

One definition of man in Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary is “one having pronounced masculine traits and virtues”. “People” has no such connotation. So, when praising a group of adult males for something involving traditionally “manly” virtues like strength and courage, it made sense to use “men” than the less praiseworthy “people.” When women joined the ranks, leaders modified the tradition rather than abandon it.

(Sadly, neither Funk nor Wagnall has much good to say about “woman.”)

Maybe because “ladies and gentlemen” sounds a little old-fashioned?

I’ll second that…I only hear the phrase men and women when the speaker deliberately wants to emphasize that women are included.