Everybody understands the substantive Mann as designating a male human individual.

Some people might also be aware of the kinship between Mann and the verb to command, which crops up for instance in the Old Swedish noun mander.

I have had however a few suspicion that the Mann substantive also could be interpreted collectively as a tribe.

  • The Alemanni confederation of tribes who became notorious in Roman Gaul during the Late Roman empire and its collapse, which yielded so many ethnonyms for the German people (e.g. "Les Allemands", "Los Alemanes" to name but a few). In this occurrence it seems that "Alle Männer" must be be understood as "all tribes" rather than "all men".
  • The etymology of the ethnonym the Normans. In old English, you have "Norðmann", a precise translation of which would be the "people from the North" as in "Nordleuten" rather than "men from the North" "Nordmänner"1.
  • The kinship mentioned above between Mann (a concept related to a single individual) and to command2 (a concept related to a troop, a clan or a party).


  1. So I'm curious to know whether there are some more indications of an old phased out meaning of Mann as a tribe rather than a single individual.
  2. Considering that in many of today's nomadic people there are clear indications that a tribe is little more than an extended family, would that be a possible explanation.
    [1] Late edit. I quote the "Norðmann" word on the premises that Old English is part of the West Germanic subfamily of Germanic languages. Although both Normannen in German and Norman in English are later loanwords from Old French (11c.), the word Norðmann is endemic to Old English and its use attested in various Wessex manuscripts (10c. also Normann).

[2] Although the etymology of to command through the Latin verb mando is the hand (manus), it ultimately goes back to the PIE root man-.

  • Can it be used in a related way in modern English? For example: The phrase "the rise of man" means "the rise of humanity seen as a whole" or "the rise of the human collective" which resembles "the human tribe" in some sense.
    – Stovner
    Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 14:01
  • 2
    @Stovner that doesn't work in German - you'd have to use "Der Mensch" or "Die Menschheit"
    – Pekka
    Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 14:42
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    I'm not so sure what the question is. "Löws Mannen bezwangen Aserbaidschan." is fine and nowadays German. "Mannschaft" in sports and military seem to be related to the question - however, in former times man and fighter might have been an identity. But the singular form "Mann" is not soldier/fighter. "Hauptmann" is related to warfare, but "Obmann", "Steuermann", "Eismann" etc. aren't. Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 19:15
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    Do you mind me asking where you're going with this? It sounds a bit like you're working towards some gender/culture kind of thing. Like others have already said, this double meaning/interpretation may work in English, but certainly does not work in modern German - probably never has. It's at any rate highly problematic to work one's way backwards through the evolution of language with a preconceived idea in mind, looking for proof. No offence! :)
    – Mac
    Commented Mar 7, 2013 at 18:51
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    I'm wondering if you are being misled by a specific English meaning of the word "man". The transference of the designator "Alamannen" from one tribe to all Germans does not change the meaning of a part of that compound, especially since this was a usage of foreigners misusing a word from a language they did not speak. The fact that Germans refer to one slice of fried potato with the plural "ein Pommes", does not change the meaning for the French plural. That is faulty reasoning.
    – user1914
    Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 9:46

3 Answers 3


Neither in everyday language nor in any other use of German I'm familiar with does Mann have even the slightest connotation of tribe. I think you're looking for something that doesn't exist (or has been a 100% lost from the language feeling).

The old plural 'Mannen' has long survived (but is today almost obsolete) in the meaning of "retinue", but doesn't have a connotation of tribe.

  • 2
    +1 - Sorry if this sounds ironic, but whilst you're saying that "I'm looking for something that does not exist", you actually seem to be giving the solution on the next line. Putting aside, as you suggest, the tribal sense. The Mannen (a weird weak plural for a strong noun btw) sense of group of men in arms is close to what I'm looking for especially in the compound name "Ala-mannen". A possible conclusion so far is that Mann itself is not a collective noun for a tribe but "Mannen" has a military meaning compatible with "Alemannen" and possibly "Markomannen" or "Normannen". Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 15:50
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    That would mean reducing tribal life to warfare. A tribe is a society, warfare is only a small part of tribal life.
    – markus
    Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 17:34
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    @AlainPannetier Mann changed to weak declination in MHG (pl. manne), the pl. Männer appeared later in the 15th c. The meaning of Mann as warrior is just part of many meanings of Mann referring to men's functions in society and is unrelated to them sometimes carrying out these duties as a group. Also, Mannen is NOT a term for men at arms, only the context creates this meaning. I edited the answer to reflect this fact.
    – user1914
    Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 9:28
  • The "single-n man" in German does not refer to a man ("Man kommt da nicht so leicht rein."; sometimes not even the "double-n-man" like in "Mannschaft" or "unbemannt", but maybe it's most obvious in "Alemannen" vs. "Alle Frauen" ;-)
    – U. Windl
    Commented Apr 17 at 22:40

Although the modern word Mann has no meaning of tribe anymore, the mentioned roots are visible with Normannen, which would be the word-to-word-translation of Normans.

As far as the wikipedia article tells Normannen is a French loanword.

  • Thanks. I'm still interested in this subject. As for Normannen being a loanword from French, please see the note [1] which I've just added to the initial question. Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 10:45

There is no point in reverse engineering in language.
It simply doesn't work.
Too many variables.
Allemagne is (TMK) derived from the first two words of an old German attack command and basically just means "all men" in the sense of "everyone" addressing the entire assault party. There is record of that dating back over 800 years, although I have no access to it right now. (source died)

What I don't get in the question is the link between Mannen or Männer or men/man and tribe, which is an entirely different thing. Not every collection of men is a tribe. The Normans or Normannen or Noormannen or Normands were just men from the north raiding the northern European coasts, but they were never one tribe as such. It wasn't a name they gave themselves.

As far as French loanwords are concerned, they were called a whole variety of words indicating they were "men from the north" all over the place and they really did get all over. As far south as Ethiopia, as far east as the Russian tundras and as far west as the great lakes of north America. Considering that, it is somehow typically French to claim they are the ones that gave them that name.

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