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The basic understanding I have about this nuance is 'male' represents any living being of masculine gender whereas 'man' (-correct me if I'm wrong) is strictly for a human male.

Now while filling out the forms, we have gender where two options are male and female. When it comes to reproductive system, we define that as male reproductive system (we doctors use this term) and not man reproductive system. If it's defining the human, why not man reproductive system. In fact, it's gender specific (read above - form's example), so shouldn't it be man reproductive system.

Obviously, it's there is a male man standing under the tree. But then, man male pattern baldness is also common. We are certainly talking about the baldness occurring in human males - why not man pattern...?

Furthermore male strippers and not man strippers? In this why is it male (singular) but then strippers (plural)? Had it been using men then would it be men stripper? Is it because of male/man?

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Related: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/898/… –  snailplane Apr 25 at 15:16
@snailplane yes...certainly related (I read it..thanks) but I think, this question has its own concern. :) –  Maulik V Apr 25 at 15:26

2 Answers 2

Man has two senses, both of which go back to the very earliest uses of the word in OE.

  • The human species or, when used with a determiner, a member of that species.
  • An adult human male.

The species sense appears to be etymologically older; but the secondary sense of 'adult male' has by now become primary. OED 1 writes:

b. In the surviving use, the sense ‘person’ occurs only in general or indefinite applications (e.g. with adjs. Like every, any, no, and often in the plural, esp. with all, any, some, many few, etc.); in modern apprehension man as thus used primarily denotes the male sex, though by implication referring also to women.
 The gradual development of the use of the unambiguous synonyms body, person, one, and (for the plural) folk(s), people, has greatly narrowed the currency of man in this sense; it is now literary and proverbial rather than colloquial.

Since OED wrote this, the success of the women's movement since the 1970s has tended to marginalize the human sense of the term even farther.

Nonetheless, in ordinary speech man is still inherently ambiguous. Consequently, except for those “literary and proverbial” situations OED mentions, we tend to avoid man altogether, employing male instead when we are trying to express what is proper to the male as opposed to the female sex.

Note, too, that even if that were not the case, man would not be an appropriate modifier for reproductive system or a baldness pattern, since these are characteristic of all males, not merely adult males.

Context is everything. When you are in doubt whether to use male or man, look at what terms you are contrasting with, whether implicitly or explicitly.

  • If you are contrasting humans with nonhumans, man is appropriate: “It’s not a fit night out for man or beast”.

  • If you are contrasting adult male humans with sub-adult male humans, man is again appropriate: “He is a man now, no longer a boy.”

  • But if you are contrasting male humans with female humans, male is appropriate: male strippers, nurses and college students are distinguished from the female strippers, nurses and college students who constitute (in the US, at least) the majority in those occupations.

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The simplest answer is that "man" and "men" are not adjectives, whereas "male" can be used as an adjective.

Also, in many of your examples the fact that you are talking about humans is implied either by the words you use or the context. For example we don't have many canine strippers. If we did we would have to state that. As for the reproductive systems; in most circumstances it would be assumed you are talking about the human reproductive system (again, context matters here). In other words it would be unnecessarily redundant. On the other hand you can say "A man is standing under the tree" or "A male is standing under the tree" but the second one introduces some ambiguity as it doesn't include the fact that you are talking about a human male.

Addendum: Implications are important. Since "female strippers" are the norm, we don't need to specify that strippers are female in most cases, just as we don't have to state that the strippers are human due to a lack of non-human strippers. We have to specify "male strippers" because they are rarer to talk about.

Addendum the Second: When saying "Man" as in "Mankind" it's still treated as a noun. That said "Man-made" and "Man-eating" are adjectives. More specifically they are compound adjectives. Compound adjectives can take the form "noun-participle", "noun-adjective", or "adjective-participle". For example "wood-cutting", "dog-friendly", and "quick-thinking" respectively.

Compound adjectives should be written with the hyphen, although it's not strictly enforced in my experience.

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As for the reproductive systems; in most circumstances it would be assumed you are talking about the human reproductive system (again, context matters here) - the context is clear. We are talking about humans –  Maulik V Apr 25 at 15:27
man made lake; man eater leopard - man's adjective? I'm not sure though! –  Maulik V Apr 25 at 15:30
If the context is clear that we are talking about humans, then there is no need for the redundancy of specifying it's a man's reproductive system. But if it is not clear we are talking about the male reproductive system we need to specify that. –  Alexander Apr 25 at 15:30
@MaulikV "Man" in regards to mankind is still a noun. "Man-made" and "man-eating" are adjectives. More specifically they are compound adjectives. Compound adjectives can take the form "noun-participle", "noun-adjective", or "adjective-participle". For example "wood-cutting", "dog-friendly", and "quick-thinking" respectively. –  Alexander Apr 25 at 17:29

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