All The Rage

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Enough with the manks, murses and mantourages!

May 21, 2010 | 10:00 am


Yesterday I received an e-mail that read, in part: [W]hether you have a brother, a buddy, or a boyfriend, don't let your man friend leave home without his man tank, this summer's essential ... THE MANK."

Let's set aside for the moment the debate over whether the tank top can be considered any more essential to the man of 2010 than the man of 1810. What I take issue with is the stank of "mank."

I get the idea behind it, really I do. The world of fashion and style has a long history of employing such portmanteau words (a term describing these mashed up words first employed by a master of the art, author Lewis Carroll), and in many cases it does the job perfectly. We can easily deduce that a "skort"  is a hybrid between a skirt and a pair of shorts, the word "tankini" efficiently conjures up the image of bikini bathing suit with a tank top, and with a little bit of effort, we can figure out that "jeggings" are skinny fitting "jean leggings" (be thankful -- the other option would have been to meld "denim leggings" into "deggings").

But it's linguistically lazy to simply "manglicize" (oops, see?) a word to show it's a male version or man-appropriate, and it can lead to confusion. One of the all-time offenders (of which I've been guilty) is "murse." Depending on the situation it can mean either "man purse" or "male nurse" (not a misunderstanding you want in an emergency, I can assure you.)

Luckily, shapewear maker Spanx has resisted the urge to dub its new undergarment for men "Manx" -- which conjures up the unfortunate association with tailless Manx cats -- a breed which takes its name, ironically, from its origin on the Isle of Man.

And since when do we need to explicitly gender specify our entourages? Does it make anything more clear (other than the speaker's attempt to sound clever) when you refer to your all-male posse as a "mantourage" -- or group of mothers as a "momtourage" for that matter? And what makes something particularly  "mantastic" or "mantacular, anyway? And really, does "mankles" (another one I've been guilty of using in the past) really add anything to the discussion that "cankles" (calf-sized ankles) doesn't already cover?

The term "mandate" -- used as one word or two -- was a punny way to refer to the phenomenon of two men who might share a pizza and a movie on a Friday night -- but only the first or second time you hear it. After that it just starts to sound vaguely homophobic.

So can we all agree to beat our prefixes into plowshares, drop the "man-" act (which may sound like, but is totally different from the Mann Act) and step away from the lexicographical slippery slope? Because otherwise it's going to start making me angry.

And trust me, you won't like me when I'm "mangry."

-- Adam Tschorn

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Photos: Portmanteau words referring to men's versions of standard-issue wardrobe items include the "murse" or male purse (left, in a 2002 file photo by Stefano Paltera / for the Los Angeles Times) and more recently the "mank" or man's tank top (right, as worn by Clayton Eiland in a 1995 file photo by Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times).