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'You are the man!' seems to be an idiom. According to the Cambridge, it means:

used to praise a person who has done something well

But as I understand, it should mean someone is the right person to do something.

Questions:

  1. What does 'You are the man!' truly mean?

  2. Can it also be used for a woman?

  3. Can we say 'She is the man!'

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    One of my friends just used a similar idiom in a text to me "You're the bomb!" after I agreed to do them a favor. That's a suitable gender-neutral equivalent. – ColleenV Nov 25 '17 at 16:02
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1. What does 'You are the man!' truly mean?

When You the man! or you da man is used as an idiom what the Cambridge dictionary says is correct. If you are intending on using the idiom, leave out the are.

The Cambridge Dictionary puts it well, but is perhaps a bit too general:

used to praise a person who has done something well

The word praise is too general in my opinion. This idiom is used often to congratulate or thank someone someone for being skilled or doing something well immediately after they have done it.

What does it truly mean? It's all down to context and how it's used. In some cases it might be used to congratulate or thank someone for their excellence, or to express more general praise. I think the most important part of the phrase is the definite article 'the'. It is saying that:

You THE man

As distinct from all the other men. Some might say that it is similar or the same as saying:

You are the first or best of all men.

2/3. Can it be used for a woman, can we say 'she is the man'?

In my opinion, no, because it is a gender specific idiom. Using it in reference to a woman may suggest that a woman can only be the best if she is a man. Women may find that offensive.

  • What about "You da woman" or "You da boss" suggested in the other answer? – dan Nov 25 '17 at 6:05
  • You could say "you da woman", but I've never heard it used. "You da boss" imho means something completely different to "you da man". – nclarx Nov 25 '17 at 6:29
  • Saying "You da boss" means that you're accepting someone's decision about something. It's about agreeing that someone is allowed to make a decision, not praising them. – nclarx Nov 25 '17 at 6:58
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    A caveat: in this US, the phrase "you da man!" (you [are] the man!) reflects the speech of the AAVE sociolect. A non-black English speaker, if they normally pronounce "the" as "the" and do not drop the verb-to-be in that way, is imitating AAVE speech. Some speakers of AAVE find this imitation offensive, even if the person imitating AAVE means no harm by it and is not being derisive. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 25 '17 at 10:44
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    I agree, that's an important point. These sort of idioms always have culture specific rules like that. Perhaps the form of this I've heard the most when said by non-black English speakers is you're the man - outside the US, as long as someone wasn't saying it while putting on an accent that was disrespectful to an African-American person I don't think there would be a problem. It is very interesting how AAVE has been integrated across the English speaking world. It's a testament to the influence of popular culture. – nclarx Nov 25 '17 at 11:15
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Can it be used for a woman? Certainly. Might that woman take offense? Possibly. You're better off saying "You da woman!" instead.

Of course, this raises the question what to do with individuals who don't identify as traditionally male or female. So perhaps it's better to use "You da boss!" for everyone.

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    Another female equivalent of "you da man" is "you go girl". – anonymous Dec 24 '18 at 19:51

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