Watch you manguage

English has a rich history of so-called ‘man-words’: jocular terms that use man as a prefix or as part of a compound or blend (portmanteau, if you like).

This formula has been very productive in recent years: the Urban Dictionary lists hundreds of man-words and man-phrases, such as man hug, man-girlfriend, man-tourage, and manbroidery. An initial m can be enough to manify a word – as in mandals, a contraction of man-sandals; mirdles, which are girdles for men; and Movember, a November-moustache charity event (though its m comes from moustache rather than man). There’s a related boom in bro-words, like bromance and bro-ordinate.

Man-words tend to be playful, if not downright daft, and they often imply an element of irony and self-deprecation. Man flu, for example, is a common cold whose male sufferer exaggerates the ailment. Many man-phrases serve as one-off gags or niche slang, but others attain quite a high profile. Man fur and mimbo were popularised by Seinfeld; mancation, a vacation for males only, spread swiftly after appearing in the Hollywood comedy The Break-Up; and mancession, an economic recession affecting men in particular, made headlines in the international press.

Some man-words denote commercial products aimed principally at metrosexual men. “Girl stuff, but for guys” is how Mark Peters described these man-brands and mancessories in an article tracing the history and usage of man-words. Nancy Friedman, who admits to “a bit of a mania for man-words”, has written about many of them on her blog Fritinancy. Manbags, manscara and mantyhose are unlikely to appeal to stereotypically manly men, but they point to a clear contemporary trend. What it signifies is open to interpretation – among other things, it might indicate male insecurity or a cultural shift in gender norms.