There Should Be a Gold-Man!
Posted by Neal on July 29, 2004
They’ve been having some fun at The Volokh Conspiracy talking about the name Spiderman, and how likely Spiderman is to be Jewish based on his name. This post quotes an email from the host of The Spoons Experience, who says:
I think you should be able to claim Spiderman. After all, it sounds like a Jewish name, doesn’t it? Can you hear it? Federman, Goldman, Grossman, Leiberman, Friedman…
Of course this joke hinges on the two different words that are each spelled ‘man’: [mæn] ‘adult human male’, and [m@n] ‘surname suffix’. (The [@] is the best I can get for a schwa.) It reminds me of this exchange that Glen and Ellen told me about a while back:
Phoebe: Hey! Why isn’t it “Spider[m@n]?” Ya know, like Goldman, or Silverman?
Chandler: It’s not his last name.
Phoebe: It isn’t?
Chandler: No. It’s not like… like “Phil Spiderman”. He’s a spider-man. You know, like, uh, like Goldman is a last name, but there’s no Gold-Man.
Phoebe: Oh, okay! There should be a “Gold-Man!”
As I was thinking about [mæn] vs. [m@n], though, I wondered: Why is the occupation suffix –man pronounced both ways, depending on the occupation? With [mæn], we have mailman, milkman, handyman, etc., but with [m@n], we have postman, chairman, policeman, etc. And some, like doorman or hangman, seem to be pronounced both ways. Or in any case, I can’t decide which way I say them.