Etymology of Human

A human is a member of the Homo sapiens species. To say that something is humanlike is to suggest that it has human characteristics.

If you tell someone that he or she is “only human”, you are implying that he or she makes mistakes and is flawed just like everyone else.


This is a very old word, so let’s start at the very beginning: the Proto-Italic language. In Proto-Italic, ɣomos means earth (or soil). Perhaps a better translation would be “ground”. In Proto-Indo-European, the word dégom also means earth. Dégom and ɣomos later becamethe Latin humus, which still meant ground/earth.

Later, humus transformed into humanus, which means human or humane. This word later evolved into the Old French humaine, and then into the Middle English humaine. We imported the word straight from Middle English and changed it into “human“.

There is an Old English word that also sounds like human and is sometimes confusing—guma. This word has a completely different etymology; it comes from the Common Germanic gumô which means hero or human, but only in a very poetic sense.

This word is now obsolete, and the only surviving English word that calls upon it is bridegroom. The actual Old English word means rubber (or chewing gum).

Human in Other Languages

Albanian: njerëzor

Catalan: humà

Danish: menneske

Dutch: menselijk

Estonian: inimene

Finnish: ihmisen

French: humain

Galician: humano

Georgian: ადამიანის

German: menschlich

Hungarian: emberi

Italian: umano

Japanese: 人間 (pronounced “ningen”)

Norwegian: menneskelig

Persian: انسان

Polish: człowiek

Portuguese: humano

Romanian: uman

Spanish: humano

Swedish: humant

Ukranian: людина


Barnhart, Robert K., ed., Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, H.W. Wilson Co., 1988.