"a sailor, one whose traffics and voyages are ships on the sea," Middle English seman, from Old English sæmanna (plural); see sea + man (n.). Similar formation in Dutch zeeman, German Seemann, Old Norse sjomaðr. In later times technically restricted to men below the rank of officer. Related: Seamanly; seamanlike.
Entries linking to seaman
Middle English se, seo, from Old English sæ,"sheet of water, sea, lake, pool," from Proto-Germanic *saiwa- (source also of Old Saxon seo, Old Frisian se, Middle Dutch see, Dutch zee, German See, Swedish sjö), of unknown origin, outside connections "wholly doubtful" [Buck], and an IE etymon "has generally been doubted" [Boutkan]. The meaning "any great mass or large quantity" (of anything) is from c. 1200.
Germanic languages also use the more general Indo-European word (represented by English mere (n.1)), but have no firm distinction between "sea" and "lake," either large or small, by inland or open, salt or fresh. This may reflect the Baltic geography where the languages are thought to have originated. The two words are used more or less interchangeably in Germanic, and exist in opposite senses (such as Gothic saiws "lake, marshland," marei "sea;" but Dutch zee "sea," meer "lake"). Compare also Old Norse sær "sea," but Danish sø, usually "lake" but "sea" in phrases. German See is "sea" (fem.) or "lake" (masc.).
Boutkan writes that the sea words in Germanic likely were originally "lake," and the older word for "sea" is represented by haff. The single Old English word sæ glosses Latin mare, aequor, pontus, pelagus, and marmor. The range in the Old English word included "the expanse of salt water that covers much of the world" to individual great, distinctly limited bodies of water; it also was used of inland seas, bogs, lakes, rivers, and the Bristol Channel.
Meaning "dark area of the moon's surface" is attested from 1660s (see mare (n.2)); before the invention of telescopes they were supposed to be water. The phrase sea change "transformation," literally "a change wrought by the sea," is attested from 1610, first in Shakespeare ("The Tempest," I.ii). Sea legs, humorous colloquial term implying ability to walk on a ship's deck when she is pitching or rolling is from 1712. At sea in the figurative sense of "perplexed" is attested from 1768, from literal sense (in reference to ships) of "out of sight of land" (c. 1300).
"a featherless plantigrade biped mammal of the genus Homo" [Century Dictionary], Old English man, mann "human being, person (male or female); brave man, hero;" also "servant, vassal, adult male considered as under the control of another person," from Proto-Germanic *mann- (source also of Old Saxon, Swedish, Dutch, Old High German man, Old Frisian mon, German Mann, Old Norse maðr, Danish mand, Gothic manna "man"), from PIE root *man- (1) "man." For the plural, see men.
Sometimes connected to root *men- (1) "to think," which would make the ground sense of man "one who has intelligence," but not all linguists accept this. Liberman, for instance, writes, "Most probably man 'human being' is a secularized divine name" from Mannus [Tacitus, "Germania," chap. 2], "believed to be the progenitor of the human race."
Specific sense of "adult male of the human race" (distinguished from a woman or boy) is by late Old English (c. 1000); Old English used wer and wif to distinguish the sexes, but wer began to disappear late 13c. and was replaced by man. Universal sense of the word remains in mankind and manslaughter. Similarly, Latin had homo "human being" and vir "adult male human being," but they merged in Vulgar Latin, with homo extended to both senses. A like evolution took place in Slavic languages, and in some of them the word has narrowed to mean "husband." PIE had two other "man" roots: *uiHro "freeman" (source of Sanskrit vira-, Lithuanian vyras, Latin vir, Old Irish fer, Gothic wair; see *wi-ro-) and *hner "man," a title more of honor than *uiHro (source of Sanskrit nar-, Armenian ayr, Welsh ner, Greek anēr; see *ner- (2)).
Man also was in Old English as an indefinite pronoun, "one, people, they." It was used generically for "the human race, mankind" by c. 1200. As a word of familiar address, originally often implying impatience, c.1400; hence probably its use as an interjection of surprise or emphasis, since Middle English but especially popular from early 20c.
As "a woman's lover," by mid-14c. As "adult male possessing manly qualities in an eminent degree," from 14c. Man's man, one whose qualities are appreciated by other men, is by 1873. Colloquial use of the Man for "the boss" is by 1918. To be man or mouse "be brave or be timid" is from 1540s. Meaning "piece with which a game (especially chess) is played" is from c. 1400.
Man-about-town "man of the leisure class who frequents clubs, theaters, and other social resorts" is from 1734. Man of the world is from mid-14c. as "secular man, layman;" by early 15c. as "man experienced in the ways of the world, one able to take things in stride." To do something as one man "unanimously" is from late 14c.
So I am as he that seythe, 'Come hyddr John, my man.' 
MANTRAP, a woman's commodity. [Grose, "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," London, 1785]
At the kinges court, my brother, Ech man for himself. [Chaucer, "Knight's Tale," c. 1386]
updated on March 15, 2022