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Mind your language

The rise of the man bun, the Mancan and man boobs

Just at the moment, in the gender-role wars, ‘man’ is attached to more and more things

28 November 2015

9:00 AM

28 November 2015

9:00 AM

‘Ha, ha, ha,’ said my husband, as though he had learnt to laugh by reading Twitter. ‘Now they’ve got falsies.’

He was waving an article about clip-on man buns. A man bun is that top-knot that some young men began to sport, in proof that there is nothing too absurd for fashion. Now, it seems, false ones are on sale. The colours specified are black, brown and blond, which hardly promises a convincing match.

This development reminds me of the chignon, a hump of hair worn over a pad, fashionable at a century’s interval in the 1770s and 1870s. Trollope quickly took against it. In He Knew He Was Right (1869), he wrote of Miss Stanbury, one of those no-nonsense women he enjoyed creating: ‘A chignon, a bandbox behind the noddle, she would not endure.’ The expectation was that the chignon would be of false hair.


Just at the moment, in the gender-role wars, man is attached to more and more things. Surprisingly long ago, certainly by the middle of the 18th century, manhood made its journey downmarket from the meaning ‘condition of being a man’ to ‘penis’. Now, I think, ​the latter usage suggests the world of cheap bodice-rippers.

In our times, man-bag was seen in 1968 (in Ohio) as ‘a natural progression’ from turtle-necks. The 21st-century mankini was made unpleasantly memorable by Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat, but even his mockery seems not to have achieved its utter extinction.

On the subject of man breasts, the Oxford English Dictionary grows quite chatty. They are ‘unusually prominent breasts on a man’, it observes, ‘typically consisting of pectoral fat but sometimes caused by hormonal factors’. Its first citation is from 1993, but a source a couple of years earlier is available for man boobs.

Last week I spied a brand of wine called Mancan, sold in a can. Like the limited colours of man-buns, this is available is red, white or fizzy. ‘Crush one at the game, throw one in your back pocket on a camping trip, or pop one open at your favourite dive bar,’ it suggests in defiance of British habits. It seems to be directed at men who think wine sissy, which has never been one of my husband’s many vices.


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