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I found on WordReference.com Dictionary that the word man means a male friend!

  1. (Slang Terms) male friend; ally:
    Hey, it's my main man.

I looked in many dictionaries e.g. Collins Dictionary, Cambridge Dictionary, and Longman Dictionary and I didn't find that the word man means a male friend.

Can somebody who has English language as their native language tell me whether that is correct?

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    Are you implying that strangers on the internet have a degree of credibility that the compilers of a dictionary lack? Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 2:24
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    As links become stale, change over time or get paywalled, you should maybe quote the definition from WordReference directly by copying it into the question.
    – Chieron
    Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 14:09
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    Note that the phrase you're quoting is "main man", and you shouldn't extend any interpretation of it to "man" out of context. Put another way, if "learned friend" denotes a lawyer it's inappropriate to assume that all friends are lawyers. Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 8:10
  • One possible use of this meaning: batman. Also it's used in this sense when playing (some board and) video games. Your 'man' is the token or ship or 'life' that fights on your side - so I'd say that the most arguable bit about the definition is not that they are a friend or ally, but are male. A comment like 'I'm on my last man so I can't take risks' would be valid when referring to Space Invaders, Qix or even Ms Pac-man
    – mcalex
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 10:35

7 Answers 7

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Word Reference gives that meaning as the eighth definition and labels it slang. So, it would be more accurate to say that 'man' can sometimes be used to mean 'friend or ally', particularly in the phrase main man.

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    There are a lot of related senses, such as man=soldier (which could include a fellow soldier or anyone who has your back), and "the man"=someone praiseworthy or who you look up to. "He's my man" might be used in slang to mean "he's my friend/someone I trust".
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 11:16
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    (Sighs) Yes, English is my native language. Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 16:34
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    Whether English is @KateBunting 's native language does not seem relevant. She simply looked at the dictionary that you cited, and reported on what she found. You don't need to be a native speaker to do that.
    – Peter Flom
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 0:14
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    This is the right answer. (I am a US-English native speaker.) What's making this a challenging question is that your citations are definition 8 and definition 14 and labeled "slang" both times. High numbered definitions are generally less frequently used than the first few and come with usage caveats. Slang, likewise, always has usage caveats. I think these meanings are valid. The example of "main man" can mean "most significant male friend/ally/compatriot", but as a language-learner, you should be very cautious in using slang when more-common meanings don't match your intent. Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 18:20
  • Marios, as a 70+ woman I'm not really qualified to answer a question about the usage of bro, which is mainly a young man's expression. Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 11:50
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Only in a couple of very specific contexts, perhaps.

"My man" is a (possibly dated) way of a male referring to another male friend, particularly a 'best friend', a bit like calling someone "bro".

A woman referring to "my man" would probably be taken to mean their husband, boyfriend or partner. Likewise, a woman saying she has "a man" could also be interpreted as them having a male companion, possibly a romantic relationship or in the early stages of one. See also expressions like "gentleman friend".

There may be other contexts. But I wouldn't expect either of these to be in dictionaries as they are either slang or the meaning is subtly implied.

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    @MariosAthanasiou, the Collins entry you linked to has definition 6: "If you say that a man is someone's man, you mean that he always supports that person or does what they want." And definition 16: "see my man". These are the meanings that WordReference is probably saying mean the word indicates friendship. (although #6 has some alternate meanings as well)
    – The Photon
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 15:15
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    @ThePhoton: that definition 6 sounds much more like a servant or employee than a friend.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 16:01
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    "If you need someone to drive the golf cart, I'm your man."
    – barbecue
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 19:05
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    "My man" could also be your drug dealer, as in "I'm waiting for my man". Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 23:52
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    Note that "my man" in paragraph two and "my man" in paragraph three would have very different sounds (mostly stress, less so pronunciation), at least in North American English. Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 13:17
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I am a native English speaker.

I think your confusion here is that you believe "man" must either always be able to mean "male friend" (so it should always be in the dictionary) or on the other hand it must never be able to mean "male friend" (so it should never be in the dictionary).

The real answer is that "man" only rarely means "male friend", and only in select kinds of usages, because it is slang.

The first thing to recognize is that not all slang is created equal. Some slang is so common that it just becomes a part of the language. Other slang only sees niche usage in limited contexts (think internet slang or memes). Some slang used to be popular a hundred years ago and isn't popular now, so a dictionary might choose to remove it even if they did have it once.

The second thing to recognize is that dictionaries differ in their approach to what words they include. Some dictionaries prefer to be very rigorous and only include words that have very well supported citations and see relatively broad use. At the other end of the spectrum, some dictionaries are happy to include anything people want to add (think Urban Dictionary).

Finally, let's talk about when "man" can mean "male friend". The word "man" by itself would not mean to me, as an English speaker, "male friend". However if I were talking to a guy and he said something like, "Oh Richard? Yo, Richard is my man!" or "Oh Richard? Richard is my boy!", I would understand either of those to be slang implying that they are pretty close friends.

Here are some examples where "man" does not mean "male friend":

  • She bought a coat from the man.
  • The man listened to the radio broadcast thoughtfully.
  • "I want to find a man" she said.
  • "That was an amazing throw - you're the man!"
  • The law says you gotta pay taxes to the Man.
  • A man must provide for his family.
  • "I have to see a man about a horse."
  • "Son, I want you to grow up to be a better man than me."
  • She said "Jacob is my man and I love him."

For that last one, when "man" is said by a girl in this way, it is most likely slang for "boyfriend".

And here are some examples where "man" does mean "male friend":

  • He greeted his friend with a fist bump, "My man!"
  • The guy gestured at his friend, "My man Jake is crazy good at guitar."
  • "Oh, you know Richard? Richard is my man!" said the guy.
  • "Doug here is my main man" said the male actor in the 70's film, probably, about his friend.
  • "What's up man? It's good to see you."
  • "Hey man, can I get a light?" he said, gesturing with his cigarette.

I hope this helps explain the limited scope of the slang.

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    Nice answer, man. But man, it feels like you're commenting on a compound term "my man" here, rather than on "man". Man, this answer sure could be improved by some senses of man which don't need "my" to mean friend. Thanks, man. (comparable do "dude" or "bro" or "mate", or "pal", etc) Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 7:14
  • @DewiMorgan The source cited in the question does only give a "my man"-example as well. And it is the eighth meaning, and marked as slang.. Not really a strong claim to warrant further investigation.
    – Chieron
    Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 14:06
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    As you say, it is not black and white. As strange and complex as English is, I'm always a little confused when people ask questions like this one about English. Do other languages not have slang that works this way? Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 10:37
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    @DewiMorgan that's good feedback - I shall shamelessly steal your example :P No worries, I got you man
    – Blackhawk
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 14:49
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    Still at issue is whether or not my man means my friend. I have heard the phrased used for decades but until reading this question on ELL, I would never have considered it to mean friend. How many main men can one person have? Can a group be introduced as my main men? Does my man mean my best friend? A boss might say, See my man, Dave, about this. Is Dave his friend or is Dave the guy who gets it done?
    – EllieK
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 15:10
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No, "man" does not mean "friend".

WordReference.com is not a reputable dictionary like the others you referenced. In my opinion, that definition does not deserve to be there.

The example they give, "my man", I believe is the only time "man" can be even loosely understood to mean "friend", so rather than give "friend" as a possible definition of "man", it makes more sense to define the idiomatic phrase, "my man", as Oxford does:

man
20. b. Originally among African Americans. my man n. a male person regarded with great respect or admiration; a person's very close male friend. Frequently as a form of address (sometimes without connotation of close friendship, as a merely familiar form of address between two males)

For instance:

My man here just got me a job!

This would not indicate that the two are necessarily friends, just that the speaker is very happy that the other guy got him a job.

And yes, I'm a native speaker.

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  • The dictionary is called: WordReference Random House Learner's Dictionary of American English © 2023. It appears that WR supplements the original reference, see here for clarification
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 14:10
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    Oxford English Dictionary Def 20 b. Originally among African Americans. my man n. a male person regarded with great respect or admiration; a person's very close male friend. Frequently as a form of address (sometimes without connotation of close friendship, as a merely familiar form of address between two males.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 14:26
  • @Mari-LouA Thank you! Added
    – gotube
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 17:45
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    "my man", is the only time "man" can be even loosely understood to mean "friend" False. Counterexample: "Hey man, how's it going!"
    – Brondahl
    Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 8:41
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    @Brondahl Why do you think "man" means friend there? I can say "Hey man" to literally any male, friend or not.
    – gotube
    Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 21:02
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No. 'Man' means an adult, male, human being. Or, sometimes, generically ALL humans.

It's only when qualified by a possessive that it can imply alliance or a (possibly sexual) partnership. 'Hey, man!' is an informal, neutral greeting.

'He's a man' is neutral. 'He's my man' implies a connection.

The only examples that comes to mind of 'man' being anything but neutral is 'He's a real man' or 'Act like a man!' which imply approval of masculine qualities.

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I think we need to dive a bit into language history to explain that:

  1. the germanic root "man"
    This root (the "a" is pronounced like in "father") means "(hu-)man". This is why a sentence like "man managed to fly to the moon" doesn't mean "male humans" but "the whole of homo sapiens". When germanic languages evolved and related languages like German and English started to differentiate English retained the original meaning but also added a second meaning, that of "male human". In German the original meaning was preserved in the word "man" (like in "man sagt" - "it is being said") and created the word "Mann" ("man" as in "male human") for the second meaning.

  2. "man"/"husband", "woman"/"wife"
    Also notice that originally words amounting to "man" and "woman" were used also meaning "husband" and "wife". The english word "wife" comes in fact from a germanic word "wif" meaning "woman". In i.e. German this word has survived as "Weib", an old word for "woman" (nota bene, not "wife", but just "female human"). "woman" comes - via "wifman" - from exactly this word. That "wife" originally was just "woman", not necessarily "married woman" can be seen in words like "midwife", "old wives' tale" or "housewife".

  3. being married
    The concept of being married - that is, having entered a formally binding contract - instead of being just partners is historically relatively young, surely younger than the invention of some basic language concepts. This is why "my man" can mean something similar to (or even exactly) "my husband", especially if said by a female. Again comparing that with a closely related language like german: "mein Mann"/"meine Frau" means exactly "my husband"/"my wife" even though "Mann" means "man" and "Frau" means "woman". It is possible but rather unusual to clarify that ("mein Ehemann", "meine Ehefrau", "Ehe" being "matrimony").

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Another common use of "man" as a friend is in the official term "best man", meaning originally someone's closest male friend, but now meaning "the man that stands behind the groom to assist him" during a marriage ceremony. In western Christian marriage ceremonies, the "best man" duties include safely transporting the wedding ring to the ceremony and handing it to the groom just before the groom puts the wedding ring on the bride's finger, but the best man has many other duties during the event depending on local traditions, though fundamentally, the "best man" helps and protects the groom throughout the day. In some Germanic languages, this meaning of a "best man" has other titles.

Beware that in military and other hierarchical contexts, a leader's "best man" is the best (most capable and most trusted) of the men under that leader's command.

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  • If those church, military or other hierarchical contexts were clearly historically correct I'd still be asking why 'main man' and 'best man' aren't usually interchangeable, even if we ignored mere 'man'… Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 20:26

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