The Grammarphobia Blog

Man, woman, and child!

Q: You say in your March 7, 2011, posting that you don’t know a female equivalent of male interjections like “man oh man” and “boy oh boy.” Our legendary Nebraska broadcaster, the late Lyell Bremser, had a signature phrase to introduce key plays: “Man, woman and child!” It became probably THE most beloved phrase in the state during Lyell’s long reign on radio station KFAB—and it does seem to use “woman” in the “boy oh boy” sense.

A: You’re right. Bremser did use “woman” that way, though most people use the phrase “man, woman, and child” as an expression of universality or in its literal sense, not as an interjection.

For any Husker fans too young to remember Bremser, here’s an excerpt from his 1973 broadcast of a Nebraska-Minnesota football game:

“OOHHH, MAN, WOMAN AND CHILD WHAT A THROW THAT WAS BY DAVE ‘THE DEALER’ HUMM! He faked his hand-off into the middle, Frosty Anderson went down the left side on a fly pattern, Humm RIFLED that ball, he had to throw that 45 to 50 yards in the air!!!….here’s the try for the point, the kick is up, and Sanger’s kick is good!…But believe me, he threw that absolutely a TON!!! Frosty Anderson NEVER broke stride! He had his man beat! He was in behind Kevin Keller, #42, flying down the left sideline … he had him beat by a couple of steps. And that ball was laid right on his FINGER TIPS! He never broke stride, and you knew that was TOUCHDOWN ALL THE WAY!! … ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PASS PLAYS YOU’LL EVER WANT TO SEE!!!”

The transcript (including the creative punctuation and capitalization) comes from the website HuskerMax.com, which notes that Bremser nicknamed the quarterback David Humm “The Dealer” because Humm was from Las Vegas.

(Humm went from Nebraska to the Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Colts, and Los Angeles Raiders.)

By the way, we got nearly a million hits when we googled the phrase “man, woman, and child,” including more than 400 from Bremser, but most of the hits we looked at used the phrase in its universal sense.

President Obama, for example, said in his Jan. 20, 2009, Inaugural Address that “America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity.”

The Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t have an entry for the phrase “man, woman, and child,” but it has six citations that include it, all of them in the universal or literal sense.

An 1806 citation in the entry for the verb “drag” is the earliest published reference in the OED: “Having dragged the whole neighbourhood for every man, woman and child.”

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