Female man to female man

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What do you call it when each player on a team is responsible for defending against just one specific player on the opposing team? If you're playing in such a system, what do you call the player you're responsible for guarding? OK, now what if the players are female? I asked myself such questions several times last week as I watched the final exciting games in the NCAA women's basketball tournament.

According to the OED, man to man in the sense "One person to another, face to face; with each person on one side in a battle, sporting contest, etc., matched or paired with one on the other side" dates from the 16th century:

a1522 G. DOUGLAS tr. Virgil Aeneid (1959) X. vi. 166 Thai fewtyr fut to fut and man to man.

The sense specific to sports, "Designating a mode of playing, an arrangement of players, etc., in which each individual player marks just one other on the opposing team", is cited from 1927:

1927 G. S. WARNER Football Coaches & Players 191 There are three..systems of defense to forward passing. These are zone defense, the man-to-man defense, and a modified form of man-to-man defense.

I was able to antedate this slightly, to Robert Ray, "Trojan Basketball Quintet Tackles California Tossers Tonight", 1/18/1924: "The Olympics attempted to use a "man-to-man" defense against their speedier opponents and the Bears simply ran away from them."

The term man to man is often used in an apparently sex-neutral way in talking about women's sports, e.g. in this story about Stanford's Jayne Appel:

Tonight's regional final against Iowa State could be another big game for Appel. Teams that have double-teamed Appel have found that with her smooth passing skills, she can easily get the ball to a teammate for an open shot. But if the shorter Cyclones try to play her man-to-man, her ability to score around the basket — her father stressed being able to shoot with either hand — could lead to a lot of points. Either way, it's not a good situation.

But there seems to be a certain amount of uneasiness about whether the phrase fits. Thus a recent news story headlined "Orange women go with man-to-man defense" (3/5/2009) gathered  comments that article included "Hmmm . . . wouldn't a 'woman-to-woman' defense be more appropriate?" and the classical allusion "Dude looks like a lady…"

A more extensive discussion of the question in the OnSports blog, under the headline "Don’t be a Jennie: Get your sports terms right", 4/14/2007, concluded that

… when it comes to man-to-man and first baseman, I do not know what can be done. Perhaps, I’m wrong (or hypocritical) in my assessment, but I believe these terms are fine to use in sports stories. It would be fun, however, to see a sports reporter write about her team’s tenacious woman-to-woman defense. But remember, you read it here first.

But way back in 1975, Joe Marshall wrote in Sports Illustrated that

In Immaculata's three championship years, the star was a 5'11" center, Theresa Shank. Now that she has graduated, the Mighty Macs are led by 5'6" Guard Marianne Crawford, who acquired her skills on the playground and can dribble through her legs and pass behind her back. Her style fits in perfectly with Immaculata's run-and-shoot offense and pressing woman-to-woman defense.

It's not hard to find a few more recent examples of woman to woman in this sense, though this usage still seems to be in the minority. And a search for "girl to girl defense" also turns up some genuine examples, though they are mostly (all?) in reference to high school or junior high school games, e.g. "Basketball split, SDJA girls win, boys lose" ("The third quarter saw the SDJA Lady Lions tight full-court girl-to-girl defense, that caused turnovers, plus the Lady Hawks couldn't buy a basket") or "Jessieville boys, girls roar into regionals" ("Mountain Pine's girl-to-girl defense was destroyed by the Lady Lions perimeter shooting and penetration to the basket"). And although the male players are called "boys", they don't play "boy-to-boy defense", at least in these stories.

Associated with the sports sense of man to man, there's a use of X's man to mean "the opposing player that X is responsible for guarding, or who is responsible for guarding X", as in these examples:

"I have been listening to what people have been telling me — to relax out there," Butler said. "I was coming off the screen and saw that my man wasn't getting through. I just took my time and shot the ball."
Nivins scored on a lot of simple moves, cutting to the basket, sealing his man beneath the rim, or finishing on the pick-and-roll …
He has averaged 14.8 ppg in his four tournament games, showing excellent defense in blocking shots and suffocating his man with his great length.

About a year ago, a commenter on the Hartford Courant's sports blog observed that

If you watch or listen to the broadcasts of women's college basketball, you will all the time hear talk of "man to man" defense, of the open "man," and failing to guard "her man." I guess it's easier than saying "woman to woman" or "the open woman" or guarding "her woman," and of course none of these sound "right" these days (but nothing sounds right until it is used enough, and some correct wording never soundsight, like "it is I"). Also sounding bad would be "girl to girl" defense, etc. So, in the grand scheme of things, Geno calling his players "guys" seems pretty small potatoes. Anyway, these days (unlike the days of Guys and Gals) "guys" is becoming less gender specific, so, to me, Geno's wording is even less of a problem. But I would like to fix "man to man" and "open man" and so on.

But actually, I've never seen man used to refer to a female athlete in an expression like "guard her man" or "I had my man beat". Nor, for that matter, have I ever seen woman used in such expressions.  Instead, female athletes and their coaches seem normally to use girl.  Here are some examples from the Daily Pennsylvanian, the college paper here at Penn:

Before the go-ahead goal, "I hadn't been shooting well," Edwards said. "So I knew it was time to step up and focus. I knew I had my girl beat, and just shot around her to screen the shot. It just went in and it was very exciting."

"If you watched my girl, as soon as I touched the ball, or even when I wasn't touching the ball, she was just on Fleisch the entire time," Kammes said.

"She really stepped up and shut her girl down," Gilhorn said. "If someone wasn't able to contain a girl, Alex really helped out for that. She looked great."

"I'd been telling them the whole game that they could take their kids to goal and then finally — in the last four minutes — they go to goal," Brower said. "We didn't challenge their defenders and then finally like [Murray] decided to take her girl to goal and she got three shots off."

Of course,  general references to female college players sometimes do use girl as well, e.g. Weldon Bradshaw, "Richmond edges JMU in WNIT", Richmond Times-Dispatch, 4/14/2009:

Brittani Shells had played the scene in her head a million times.

Game's on the line.

She takes the inbounds pass, then squares up near the top of the key against the girl assigned to stop her.

The hopes and dreams of her coaches, her teammates, and University of Richmond women's basketball faithful are riding on her skill and cunning.

Quickly, she dribbles left as if to penetrate into the paint and draw the foul.

Then, as the defender takes the bait, she pulls up, sets her feet, and in one fluid motion launches an arching jumper.

Basket good! Nothing but net! Spiders win! Spiders win!

In general, Girl seems to be mounting a sort of lexicographical come-back as a colloquial term with positive associations in reference to adult women — thus in another college paper, we find an article by Alyssa Jung, "Documentary Seeks to Defame Hillary Clinton", 4/2/2009:

I’m used to seeing my girl attacked by the left, the right, men, women, you name it and I’ve been personally attacked for my staunch support of her. (And a cocky, chauvinistic, unsuspecting male who mistook my tiny stature for meek got a cup of water thrown in his face and a threatening order to “Get the hell out of my suite you disgusting, sexist, ignorant, pathetic excuse for a human being…!”)

But the usage among athletes, as far as I can tell, is not so much coming back as still around.

(To avoid misunderstanding, let me specify that I'm not complaining, I'm just interested.)


  1. Stephen Jones said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 6:16 pm

    In soccer man-to-man marking is contrasted with zonal defence. Both have their advocates.

  2. Amy said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 6:29 pm

    I play Ultimate [Frisbee], a sport that fields all-male, all-female, and coed teams in recreational, club, and academic leagues all over the world.

    In Ultimate, you can play what other sports refer to as "man-to-man" defense or "zone" defense, and often a team will mix up their defensive strategies within a single play, launching zone then crumbling to man– except we don't call it "man," we call it "person". Likewise, on the sidelines, captains calling plays will call for "person defense," and teammates will call on you to "front your person" when they see a short offensive play develop.

    That's in coed leagues. In all-female leagues, believe it or not the term I hear most often is "chick". "Line up on your chick for D," "Front your chick," etc. But even on all-female teams, the call for the overall defensive strategy is "person" vs. "zone".

  3. Amy Stoller said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

    Player-to-player solves the descriptive problem handily, and can be used no matter what the sex of the players.

  4. Vergil said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 6:41 pm

    And why not "one-to-one" ?


  5. Q. Pheevr said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

    Some sources, including the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball Association (which should have the support of noun-noun compound enthusiasts all over), use "person to person defence." This makes a great deal of sense (especially if you want to be able to talk about co-ed games), although I do confess that it sounds like a type of phone call to me. (Then again, I don't read much about sports in general, so my intuitions about the terminology are not those of a fluent speaker, let alone a native one.)

  6. Dave Herman said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

    No takers for "bijective defense", I suppose?

  7. CM Callahan said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 6:59 pm

    When I played soccer in high school and coed soccer and frisbee in grad school, the term we used was "man on man" defense. And if you saw a teammate with the ball and she didn't know an opposing player was coming up behind her, you yelled, "Man on!" to warn her.

    I'm such a stickler for gender-neutral phrasing–but in the heat of a game, it's much faster to say "Man on!" than anything else.

  8. Bill Walderman said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 6:59 pm

    If "man-to-man" doesn't quite fit, how about calling it a "mano-a-mano" defense?

  9. Dougal Stanton said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 6:59 pm

    Where I grew up this strategy was always called "man-on-man". Other phrases ("marking your man") were identical. I'm interested to know if anyone else uses the term "man on!" — the warning you shout to your team mate if an opponent is closing in on them, especially if they would be unable to see the opponent — to see if it depends on "man on man" usage or is more widespread.

    Other than that, I have nothing to add. I tend to avoid the sports pages… ;-)

  10. Gaston umlaut said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

    I'm surprised no-one's mentioned the term 'one-on-one'. Here in Australia where Netball is popular and has recently become a mixed sport, at least at the social level (it was traditionally only women who played), I've heard players talk of one-on-one play and (eg) beating their 'opponent' (as against 'man' or 'girl').

  11. Spectre-7 said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 7:24 pm

    Bill Walderman,

    Maybe it's just me, but I don't really think hand-to-hand fits very well there.

  12. Matthew Stuckwisch said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 7:53 pm

    In addition to one-on-one or one-to-one, you can also simply call it press defense. At least, in most sports I can think of they are synonyms.

    [(myl) Not in basketball, where "press" is an orthogonal dimension to man vs. zone, referring to a style of aggressive defense that tries to disrupt the opponents' offense and produce turnovers. Thus the Wikipedia article for full-court press calls it "a defensive style in which the defense applies man-to-man or zone defense to pressure the offensive team the entire length of the court before and after the inbound pass". Here's a diagrammed trapping half court press that is clearly set up with zone assignments rather than man-to-man assignments. ]

  13. Joe Fineman said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

    At Finnegan's wake, one may recall, it was woman to woman & man to man.

  14. Anna said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 8:44 pm

    I played soccer and ultimate [frisbee] in the late 90s for one of those PC eastern colleges conservatives love to make fun of.

    While we were always careful to refer to ourselves and our opponents as women during conversation, on the field one-syllable words were the order of the day.

    We played "man" and when the defense fell apart we'd shout "who's your man?", "point to your man", etc.

    The act of playing man-to-man defense was called "marking" so we would also say things like "mark up","stay with your mark","who's your mark?", etc.

    On offense we'd alternate "man on" with "one (or two) on"

  15. Matthew Stuckwisch said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 8:47 pm

    Ah, I figured there probably were a few that did make a distinction. In water polo they're synonymous, because the only other two options are sloughing or playing in zones. *stops telling people that WP plays are somewhat similar to basketball*

  16. mollymooly said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 9:19 pm

    In this discussion I have been most struck by the use of "coed" for "mixed" in non-educational contexts. But then, "coed" is an Americanism I don't get at all. Used as a noun, a "coed" is necessarily female. That just seems wilfully perverse. What does one call a male coed?

  17. Q. Pheevr said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 9:42 pm

    @mollymooly – I used the term "co-ed" in my comment above because I felt it to be more explicit than "mixed" (there being all sorts of things other than sexes that one might have a mixture of), although I, too, find it a bit odd in non-educational contexts. I would never, ever use it as a noun.

  18. Lazar said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 10:23 pm

    @mollymooly: I've also been struck by the oddity of that – "coed" as a noun, referring exclusively to females.

  19. Troy S. said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 10:23 pm

    I'm curious when this cultural unease about 'man' as a generic became widespread, as it's usage has quite a long history. I for one find it quite natural to say "man-to-man" describing even a team of all women, though I could be in a minority. The whole insistence on replacing all instances of woman with man sounds more politically motivated than linguistically. It seems to me that historically, the problem seems to be a lack of words for things that are explicitly masculine rather then feminine, since the masculine form usually doubles for the generic. Old English was perhaps better at this; maybe we could go back to using explicit distinctions like wer and wif for man and woman. (Hm, should we call female werwolves wifwolves instead ?)

  20. Janice Huth Byer said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 10:27 pm

    In a properly ordered world, man and woman are subsets of human. In a perfectly ordered language, "human" being the set, would've been expressed by the root word "man" and both subsets, i.e. genders, would have entailed "man" with a prefix. Too late. One-to-one sounds like the best we can now do.

  21. seidenberg said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 10:35 pm

    How about just calling it "one on one" defense?

    It wouldn't hurt.

  22. James said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 10:58 pm

    In basketball "one-on-one" already has a meaning (it's a two-player game). I guess "one-on-one defense" could be adopted, but it would be confusing, at least at first. I don't think it's a good option.

  23. Dan S said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 1:44 am

    The generic (gender-unmarked) "man" has other good uses. My mom, a registered Parlimentarian (not to mention ardent feminist) has always insisted that "Madam Chairman" is correct.

    And if she were to go over the rail during a crossing I would be the first to hollar "man overboard!" Either one of us could ably man a lifeboat.

  24. Cheryl Thornett said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 2:03 am

    Re 'coed': According to the SOED, coed meaning a female student at a coeducational college or university goes back to the late 19th C, which is earlier than I had realised. I think of Betty Coed, a name I associate with the middle 20th C. (And I've just learned that she is in a Rudy Vallee song of 1930.) Perhaps this simply reflects that women were admitted to colleges and universities along with men, rather than in separate institutions, earlier than they were in the UK. As a new element, it's not surprising that they were labelled. The new and distinctive feature of co-education was women.

  25. Sili said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 6:24 am

    Dave Herman,

    How would you ensure surjectiveness? I think you'd have to settle for injective defence (assuming of course one can even use that term for a relation rather than a function).

  26. Faldone said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 7:06 am

    I've often wondered: when a formerly all-women's college started matriculating men would all the female students suddenly become coeds?

    Would anyone claim that when a man-eating shark ate a woman, it would be accused of exceeding its job description?

    Perhaps the best solution to the whole problem would be to re-introduce the word wæpman and restore man to its original meaning of 'human being'.

  27. J. W. Brewer said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 7:33 am

    My sense is that the sort of people who get upset by generic "man" often don't seem to have the same problem (at least thus far) with the generic use of "guy" or perhaps (although this is still a novelty) the generic use of "dude." Maybe there's a way forward there for sports jargon of the future? (Although I love the data point on the use of "chick" in women's ultimate.) On Troy S.'s history, perhaps if we could only restore the less problematic vocabulary of Old English we could expect to enjoy the progressive and egalitarian male-female relations Anglo-Saxon England was known for — at least as a transitional measure until we usher in a "properly ordered world" by means of a "perfectly ordered language." (Note that English already has the "perfectly ordered" paradigm Ms. Byer commends, as used for certain non-human animals, e.g. goat/billygoat/nannygoat.)

  28. Abi said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 9:00 am

    At my all-girls' school in England, we used "guard" for "man-to-man defense" when playing hockey or netball in PE lessons. "Guard" has the advantages of being fast to say, and being gender-neutral. I don't recall ever hearing the expression "man-to-man" (or any variation on that theme) in a PE lesson at that school.

    Re the use of "a girl" when talking about adult women — this is certainly not sports-specific.

    Re the use of "Madam Chairman": I prefer this to "Chair" since "Chair" makes me feel like a piece of furniture, especially in a debates or similar context, where "the chair", "the house", and "the floor" all refer to groups of people. However, I much prefer a completely neutral and non-inanimate term like "Convener" to any variation on a theme of "chair/person/man".

  29. Aaron Davies said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 9:38 am

    re hillary, perhaps we can credit oprah and "you go girl"?

  30. Andy Hollandbeck said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 9:44 am

    A side note: "Female man" (or femailman) is the term Bart Simpson used to refer to the woman who delivered their mail (i.e., a female mailman). I always thought this was a great pun, perhaps because it would be so politically incorrect.

  31. Bob Lieblich said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 10:10 am

    Coaching a girls' team in the early 80s I used male terms exclusively when discussing strategy. That was the practice in the entire league. (We also used full-size basketballs; those were the days.) No one, not even my feminist wife, so much as winced. Off the court, they were of course girls.

    I'm a bit surprised that no one has yet mentioned the queen in chess, the most powerful of all chessmen. Yes, I know there's been a drift to "chess pieces," and when the queen is specifically mentioned most people use the pronoun "she." Still …

  32. Ellen said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

    Regarding "guy" (mentioned by J. W. Brewer), in my experience, guy and guys always refers to a male (or males) when talking about someone. And "guys" is always gender neutral when talking to a group of people. Much simpler than with man/men.

  33. Medrawt said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

    Basketball coaches at multiple levels are also frequently predisposed to view zone defense as either a gimmick (can't be used consistently) or an inappropriate way to play basketball, which led to several coaches in my personal experience (and I'm certain I've heard this from announcers as well) refer to man-to-man defense as "playing straight up" rather than doing anything clever and/or underhanded.

  34. Terry Collmann said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 1:13 pm

    My favourite singer is Tracy Personperson.

  35. Mr Punch said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 2:02 pm

    The use of "girl" in the Richmond-JMU story quoted is not really more general than the preceding examples, in which it refers to the person being guarded — it's just the other side of the same relationship ("the girl assigned to stop her").

    And "guys" is now pretty thoroughly unisex.

  36. Ellen said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

    If "guys" is really "pretty thoroughly unisex", I'd like to see some evidence for that. "You guys" is a standard gender neutral plural, yes. But if "guys" has somehow supposedly stopped being able to be used to refer specifically to male persons when talking about (not to) people ("pretty thoroughly unisex"), I'd like at least some evidence that is it sometimes used gender neutrally when talking about (not to) people.

    Frankly, I'm inclined to keep avoiding "you guys" on the internet, because I'm not convinced that those unfamilar with that form of plural "you" will understand that the term is gender neutral.

  37. Ellen said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 6:20 pm

    P.S. A quick google seach shows that, amoung females, "guys" to refer to males is quite alive and well.

  38. Amy said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 6:32 pm

    I think I was the first poster to use the word "coed" to mean a sports team of mixed gender. Wanted to go on the record saying that I actually hate the term "coed" — to me it implies that schools (originally) and sports teams (currently) are all-male by default and women who join are designated with a label that implies they are marginal tag-a-longs. So, why did I use it in my post? Because the rest of the world does and I've had to adopt the term to make myself understood in such contexts. Nuff said.

  39. Abi said,

    April 16, 2009 @ 2:57 am

    While "guys" is often used as gender-neutral, I think one could argue that it is a false generic, from the weirdness of a sentence like:

    ? "The guys were breastfeeding their babies."

  40. mollymooly said,

    April 16, 2009 @ 8:02 am

    In Ireland women and girls use "lads" to each other in the same sense as "guys".

  41. Mr Punch said,

    April 16, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

    I have to concede that Ellen is right — "guys" in general is not "pretty thoroughly unisex"; but it is as a term of address, as in "you guys," and it is widely used in reference to mixed groups.

  42. marie-lucie said,

    April 16, 2009 @ 10:43 pm

    @Abi: While "guys" is often used as gender-neutral, I think one could argue that it is a false generic, from the weirdness of a sentence like:

    ? "The guys were breastfeeding their babies."

    "generic" means that a word is used with a general meaning, when the sex of the person(s) is not specified in any way, and here the context shows specifically that only females are meant, so a generic word cannot be used. Similarly, you could not say "We have to milk the cattle" since the context precludes interpreting the generic "cattle" as including males (even though "milch cattle" is possible, as it refers to species of cattle, not specific individuals within the species).

    It is interesting that in spite of the strong insistence on avoiding "generic he" by giving equal prominence to the pronouns "he" and/or "she", English nouns are becoming more generic through the avoidance of feminine forms, so that nouns previously reserved for males only are becoming generic, even when there is a legitimate reason for distinguishing the two forms (eg "actor", not "actor" vs "actress", although actors of one sex are not usually chosen for roles representing the opposite sex). This is the opposite of what is happening with languages which do have grammatical gender (as in French or German), where the current tendency is to make sure to have separate masculine and feminine forms of the same noun.

  43. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    April 17, 2009 @ 1:40 am

    Today in Eye Weekly (a Toronto publication), I was surprised to read, in an interview with musician Neko Case (who is very much a woman), the quote "I'm not an ocean guy", meaning she's not a coastal type of person. This struck me as odd and unintuitive, and (at least in my fallible memory) I don't think very many women or men use "guy" in this singular way to refer to a female.


  44. Ellen said,

    April 17, 2009 @ 11:52 am

    Marie-lucie, first, I have no problem with "We have to milk the cattle". But, that's precisely because it is a generic. Female cows are cattle (unless they are elephants in which case "female cows" is a tautology). "Cattle" convey's no sense of maleness.

    Guy(s) does. Do a Google image search on "guys" or "cute guy". (Unmodified singular "guy" gets lots of hits for the name Guy.)

    "Guys" is only gender-neutral in certain contexts. I'm personally not yet convinced that it is ever gender-neutral when talking about, not to, people. If there are examples of it being used to about about (not to) a mixed group, I'd like to see that.

    "The guys were breastfeeding their babies." doesn't work, not because generics can't be used for an all-female group, and not because it's a false generic, but because it's not generic in that context. It means, there, adolescent or adult males.

  45. HarveyP said,

    April 17, 2009 @ 11:54 am

    I shared the piece and the comments with my daughter, who is very actively involved with ultimate frisbee. Here is her response:

    We (playing women's [ultimate Frisbee]) are playing either "zone" or "man" defense. We never say man-to-man, anyway. We might call it "person on", but that's really pushing the syllables. Really just "man D" is the standard. "Girl" is used ONLY as a reference to another player in the moment "PICK UP YOUR GIRL!" or "find your girl" or maybe "I beat my girl to the endzone", but never anything else; "those girls were good" or something like that would never fly. There's definitely a politics around the use of "girl" in certain situations, of the type that you're really only allowed to use the word if you're female. "Chicks" we do say a lot, but not in those imperative moments. "Those chicks were good" would be appropriate; "FIND YOUR CHICK!" would not be. Curious.

    Interestingly, we do say "Man on!" meaning like if you're chasing down a disc and you have a lot of time before it's in catch-able range, "TIME!" means you have plenty of time to wait for it, and "MAN ON!" means you need to be agressive in getting the disc because another player is in the area looking to get a take-away D[defense]. Theoretically could also say "ONE ON" or "PERSON ON", but in practice no one ever actually does.

    Also, we sometimes call the frisbee the "ball". Kind of a lot, actually. Just seems to work better.

    "co-ed" always refers to mixed-gender teams.

  46. Ellen said,

    April 17, 2009 @ 11:56 am

    Ah, hadn't read Skullturf's post when I replied to Marie-Lucie. :)

  47. Abi said,

    April 17, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

    @Marie-lucie: by your argument, we should not be able to use a genuinely generic word in the sample construction I gave. However, I don't see a problem with

    "The people are breastfeeding their babies."

    It's a bit contrived perhaps, but semantically fine, unlike the sentence with "guys" in place of "people".

  48. Karl Weber said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 9:45 pm

    I think Bob Lieblich is onto something. To my ear, "man to man" has a feel derived in part from the use of the word "man" to refer to any piece in a game–a checker for example. Picture a coach working on a diagram of Xs and Os with each one representing a player, or "man," and you might see what I mean.

  49. Stuart Duncan said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 8:12 pm

    In rugby there are various methods of defence, but the two basic are tackling the man with the ball (ballcarrier or player in possession) or marking your opposite number. The latter could be called "man to man" or could be abbreviated. The term "opposite number" is a mouthful, and I've heard "your opponent" used too, which isn't much better. But in some ways I do prefer "marking your opposite number", to "marking your man"; somehow it seems more objective and neutral and in rugby your opposite number in the backline may not always be the same person (players switching postions is not uncommon and often a successful method of upsetting a defence unable to adapt).

    In mixed touch rugby your opposite number may one minute be a man and the next minute be a woman. This helps keep everyone on their toes.

  50. Tania Strahan said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 3:09 am

    I played State level women's basketball for 20 years (omg!) in Australia, and we consistently call man-to-man defense 'man', with 'pick up your man' or 'pick up your player' both fine and competely natural, 'don't let your man get past you', 'box your man out', 'find your man', 'find a man and stick to her', and so on. It struck me as funny when I started teaching Language and Gender, but it totally means a type of defence. And the pronoun for 'man', for us, was 'she'. Obviously. Weird, I know.

    I've actually recorded my team for a Language and Gender study, but unfortunately I didn't get any play-time talk :( Would have been interesting to see if we were as consistent in this as I remember.

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