Did you know?

Click any word in a definition or example to find the entry for that word

man flu or man-flu

noun [uncountable]

a common cold which is exaggerated to be a much more serious condition by the male sufferer

man cold

noun [countable]

'She said she is fascinated by how, at the first sign of a cold, her husband, Ed, can turn from warrior to what she calls "wimp." "My husband's been to war four times, and a simple head cold takes him down for the count," she said. She says many women agree that what is regarded as a common cold for women is no simple ailment to men. In fact, it even has its own name: man-flu.'

ABC News 29th October 2008

You've got a bit of a sore throat and your nose is beginning to feel rather 'bunged up'. Do you: a) take yourself off to bed slightly earlier than normal having dosed yourself up with a couple of paracetamol tablets? Or b) grumpily make demands for comfort food, hot baths and tissues, cough and blow your nose dramatically every minute, and announce that you're not fit enough to go to work the next day? If the former, then you're suffering from a common cold, if the latter, then, oh dearie me, you've got a bad case of man flu.

the expression derives from the premise that there is a clear gender divide when it comes to coping with everyday illnesses

The expression man flu, also sometimes referred to as a man cold, has pejorative overtones, suggesting that the 'sufferer' has an irritating tendency to exaggerate his condition. The expression derives from the premise that there is a clear gender divide when it comes to coping with everyday illnesses like common colds: women knuckle down and soldier on regardless, looking after children, preparing meals, going to work, whilst men take to their beds and proclaim incapacity for several days.

The sceptics among us (especially if male) might argue that every individual deals with illness differently, and that there are plenty of women out there who are equally pathetic when suffering from a cold – maybe they have woman flu. But in defence of the expression, we should remember that new language emerges when people have a common experience and put a name to a trend – and hey sisters, let me tell you that as I write this, I have a nose as red as a cherry and am nursing a box of tissues next to the keyboard, but the show must go on … (until my husband catches it, that is!).

Background – man flu

The expression man flu has been around since the beginning of the noughties, but gained more popular exposure in 2006 when the British magazine Nuts claimed the condition really did exist after conducting a poll of over 2000 of its (largely male) readers. The survey showed that 64% of men suffer from a viral illness compared with just 45% of women, and that men take on average three days to recover whereas women take only a day and a half. The conclusion was therefore drawn that man flu is:

'a serious affliction which affects over two thirds of the British male population. Men are more susceptible [and] are affected more severely, with a much slower recovery rate.'

Though clearly not intended to be a serious medical health survey, the article was subsequently seized upon across the media, thereby securing the future of the expression man flu.

The expression's use of the word flu is an extension of the popular use of flu as a term of reference for the common cold. People often describe a person as 'having flu' even if their symptoms aren't as severe as they would be if they did have the genuine flu virus, which can render the sufferer extremely weak and incapacitated, and is potentially very serious for vulnerable people such as the elderly.

Flu is a contraction of the now much less commonly used word influenza. Influenza came into English from Italian in the mid 18th century, literally meaning 'influence', but also describing an 'outbreak of an epidemic' after there was an epidemic of the virus in Italy in 1743. In a 21st-century twist, researchers have recently been exploring how to detect influenza epidemics by using the search terms entered into Internet search engines. For more on this topic, see the Google link below.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 16th December 2008.

Open Dictionary

garbage patch

a collection of debris, mostly consisting of plastic, which moves around in the sea …

add a word

Blog

A must for anyone with an interest in the changing face of language. The Macmillan Dictionary blog explores English as it is spoken around the world today.

global English and language change from our blog