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Give me but ten who are stout-hearted men

Offered for your consideration as word of the year is a phrase that has become increasingly commonplace: man up.

It is not easy to pinpoint when men stopped acting like men. My own minor epiphany occurred some years ago while I was waiting for my wife at the airport. I noticed a man of approximately my age—late forties or early fifties—wearing a T-shirt stretched tight by a paunch that was not the work of a day, shorts, and spindly shanks ending in a pair of athletic shoes that looked as large as luggage.

A grown man dressed like a child.

It was those huge shoes, I think, that suggested adolescence, like a puppy that has not yet grown into its paws. The dissonant note was supplied by that straining gut.

This trend in adolescent dressing strikes me as an emblem of a flight from adulthood, which means a flight from responsibility. I see it elsewhere in the weasely non-apology—“I’m sorry if what I said/did offended anyone”—that public figures recite when they have been caught at something reprehensible.

I wonder whether the flight from responsibility can also be a partly explain why more women than men are pursuing academic degrees while the boys continue to concentrate on sports* and video games.

Let me head off any comments to the effect that it is women who are responsible for this, emasculating men by invading and conquering what was formerly male territory. Let me instead suggest that if your manhood was so fragile that a girl could take it away from you, it must not have amounted to much in the first place.

Whatever the origin of the phenomenon, the prevalence of man up suggests that the culture is recognizing that it is time to remedy the situation. So, gentlemen, I present my three-point program for manning up.

1. Stop whining. If an occasion calls for wearing a suit and tie, do so without complaining.** Pay your taxes. Learning new skills is hard. Marriage isn’t easy, and raising children is fraught with difficulty. Suck it up and stop complaining.

2. Take responsibility. For God’s sake, pick up after yourself. Mere possession of a Y chromosome does not entitle you to valet service. Get a degree in something other than weekend boozing. Get a job, and do the work instead of expecting someone else to do it for you. Pay your own way. When you screw up, and you will, often, apologize and take the consequences.

3. Act the part. Adulthood and responsibility do not come naturally or inevitably. You become an adult by trying to act like one, and over time the role comes to fit. Look for models worth imitating, and imitate them. Other men have done it before you. You can too.


*As good a time as any to repeat Gore Vidal’s sardonic remark from decades past: "A peculiarity of American sexual mores is that those men who like to think of themselves as exclusively and triumphantly heterosexual are convinced that the most masculine of all activities is not tending to the sexual needs of women but watching other men play games."

**A tip: If your necktie seems to be strangling you, it may be time to buy shirts of a larger collar size. Chances are excellent that your neck is a good deal fatter than when you were nineteen.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:34 AM | | Comments (32)


Bravo, sir. Good advice for all (not just the men).

For extra credcit, read John Cheever's advice to sons:

Let me instead suggest that if your manhood was so fragile that a girl could take it away from you, it must not have amounted to much in the first place.

Um, ow? Might it not be possible to express all these admirable sentiments about adulthood and responsibility without this implied slam at women? But then I suppose it is impossible to defend the reprehensible "man up" otherwise.

I had a similar reaction as Satchel to that sentence. If you didn't mean it as a slam at women, then I'd suggest clarifying it.

Also, I have more often heard the phrase "man up" used to mean "be a man, not a WOMAN" (with the implication that a woman is a bad thing to be) than to mean "be a man, not a BOY" (as you've used it here). I have most often heard "man up" used in contexts where a man does not live up to a macho stereotype in terms of interests, activities, emotional expression, or (hetero)sexuality. For these reasons, I cannot and do not support this phrase, certainly not as a "word of the year."

Kids have a variation of "man up." At kids' ball games, I've heard kids say, "Put on your big boy pants and do this."

Agree with the premise that too many adult men dress in an adolescent style. The worst part being, some spend quite a bit to look this way. Sort of goes along with the concept that all females (regardless of age) must look 'hot'. Another variation of "man up" - "You can act like a man..." Don Corleone.

I understand man up in the same sense you have used it here: be responsible, or as my mother used to say to me, pull yourself together.

But as for suits and ties, I do not whine; I simply will not wear them. "Begin as you mean to go on" is my motto in such matters, and I want it clearly understood that people who hire me are hiring a geek, and a geek is what they are going to get. No customary suits of solemn black for me.

I'll also point out that my role models for adulthood have mostly been women, beginning indeed with my mother and going on to my wife.

I taught GrandBoy to quit throwin' like a girl.

In re: "girl." The sentence beginning "Let me instead suggest" is in direct address. It is conventional in direct address to use the language to which the parties addressed will respond.

If I were to presume to advise women, which, God help me, I do not, I might suggest being a little less quick to take reflexive offense.

Might you be confusing "man up" with "fogey up"?

Funny--I was going to comment that, as I've spent the last several years watching my respect grow, not only for your (Mr. McIntyre's) mastery of all things linguistic, but also your encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything else, surely you MUST have foreseen that your word choice (" a girl...") would be ire-raising. I see other commenters beat me to the punch.

May I be so bold as to suggest that the insertion of a parenthetical "as you might say" could have clarified that you were consciously mirroring the (no sense pretending they're not) sexist and inflammatory attitudes of the "addressee" of your jab, and kept your adoring fans from fearing you'd fallen to a fit of ignorance?

Sincere words from a Y-chromosomed, sneaker-and-T-shirt-wearing, tax-paying, gender-neutral-language-using fan.

(she ponders...drag out the feminist soapbox?...)

...if your manhood was so fragile that a girl could take it away from you... flashed a picture of the clubhouse with No Girlz Allowed on the door. I laughed.

Now, if he'd said, "so fragile that a woman..."

David -

Your remonstrance is so clear and compelling and polite that I feel churlish for disagreeing with you. But I do think this is an instance where Professor McIntyre's wording of the entire paragraph was of such precision and balance that it would undercut his point by inserting a parenthetical. Let's allow the sarcastic vehemence of "a girl" to immodestly stand without apology. It is only apalling to those who cannot appreciate a nuanced reprimand.

Laura -

I hear you. (Your fear of churlishness is, I think, unfounded....)

Perhaps the take-home message of this comment thread is an underscoring of the naïvete that allows a writer to assume that every reader will find the same meaning in her words.

Hence the need for well-educated, professional editors? (See what I did there?) ;-)

In the quest for pointers on how to act like a man, I often turn to classic Hollywood films.

I still remember when my junior high school (not middle school) gym teacher told me I "ran like a girl." At least she didn't tell me to "man up."

Ouch, Dahlink!

(But, you are very girly!)

David -

Yes, I did see. Well played, my man.

I remain disconcerted by the physiologically unlikely suggestion, by such luminaries as Sarah Palin, for women to "grow a pair." Perhaps they are the ones who are manning up?

My computer's hard drive died just before Christmas - a perfectly predictable ending to a perfectly horrid year - and I finally got it back on Christmas Eve afternoon. It still isn't the way I want it, but that's another story.) I therefore have missed a couple of weeks of YDS, and I'm amused to see that nothing much has changed. Men dress sloppily but don't blame women; in fact, don't blame women for anything.Don't whine about split infinitives. Homosexuals and illegal immigrants are swell - or, as they are always with us, we may as well pretend to embrace them. Bow ties are the height of male haberdash, regardless of how foolish one may look in them. (Not every man can carry it off.) I do agree with the vile expression "man up." Someone has been watching too much television.

Apparently nothing much, apart from the hard drive, has changed with the Terse One either.

I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure manly men have been around longer than suits. In fact, a lot of "suits" seem to be the whining girly-men you're railing against.

If you're judging people by how they dress, perhaps it's you that's stuck in a teenage mind-set.

Broadly though, you have a point, but no a male-specific one. People of both sexes expect life to be easy and feel cheated when it isn't.

I myself prefer to see men dressed appropriately for w ork, salary, position, etc.On the other hand, I prefer the same for women. We are, I assume, not talking of teenagers, whose tastes in everything are generally execrable and, one hopes, temporary. I don't expect the cable tech to arrive in a 3-piece suit: I do expect the people at the service desk not to appear in jeans and sneakers. How can anyone expect to be taken seriously when they appear in public looking like an unmade bed?

Whilst I was away in the world without computers (much easier in some ways) did anyone broach the topic of Wikileaks et al? Or am I opening a can of worms simply by asking?

I, too, think people should be appropriately dressed, by which of course I mean their dress should meet my prejudices. On the other hand I think neckties, bow or otherwise, are the invention of the devil. And not for his own use, I suspect. I'll grant you that I look extremely handsome in a tie, but at my age that's no longer worth the discomfort.

Looking handsome at any age is worth it. I sympathize with the discomfort, but as women suffer high heels, a tie seems a small price to pay. You can always loosen it or remove it altogether at the end of the day. I've missed you, Picky, old sock.

In my youth I worked in a newsroom where we all wore our ties loosened. We knew it was Appropriate because we'd seen hard-boiled guys like us dressed that way in movies. (Actually I don't think we used words like "guys" and "movies", though I don't doubt we would have, had we dared.)

Great column, John. And I agree with Ben; this is advice I would give to both my son and my daughter if I felt they needed it. They don't, of course, being practically perfect in every way (a la Mary Poppins).

I also agree with Laura Lee. The paragraph which includes the word "girl" is clever, elegant and easily understandable as directly addressing the troglodytes. Nothing there to regret or revise in word choice.

And as to Wikileaks, Miss Terse, I'm flabbergasted. Apparently there are diplomats who are quite willing write home that the local dictator is a cunning crooked murderous swine, but who lack the common decency to tell the chap to his face. You wonder why we spent so much time in the Boy Scouts if this is the way we turn out.

I don't know why this should come to the surface of my memory now, but there is a wonderful -albeit overlooked - line in Hitchcock's "Nororious." Claude Rains has just tumbled to the fact that his wife -Ingrid Bergman - is working for the American government. He crawls to his formidable and unsympathetic mama and tells her all about it. She, through a cloud of cigarette smoke, tells him,"We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity.....for now." Brilliant! And so timely at any time.

1000 culpae. I meant "Notorious," not "Nororious," which of course rhymes with "uproarious." Sorry, Picky.

Nororious: something to do with viruses? Anyway, a lovely film. But then I am always struck all of a whatnot in the presence of Miss Bergman.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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