A Handy Guide to Words Starting with Mani-

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Several English words are derived from the Latin term manus (the basis of manual), meaning “hand,” but many others are unrelated. Here’s a breakdown of which words starting with mani- have been handed down from Latin and which have differing etymologies.

Manipulation is the act of handling something, although the word also has the weighted sense of controlling someone or something for one’s own purposes. The word, ultimately from Latin manipulus, stems from manipuler, a French term meaning “handle chemical apparatus.” The verb form is manipulate, the adjectival form is manipulative, and objects that can be manipulated (especially those used to teach counting and other math skills) are sometimes called manipulatives.

Manifest is likely but not with certainty derived in part from manus. The original form in Latin, manifestus, referred to something flagrant or obvious but in English manifest retains only the second sense: something easy to recognize or understand or clearly shown or visible. That is the connotation of the historical term “Manifest Destiny,” referring to the principle that it was obvious that the United States was entitled to all the territory of North America extending to the Pacific coast from the nation’s then-current frontier.

The verb form, also manifest, means “show clearly,” and manifest as a noun refers to an indication or to a list of passengers or an invoice of cargo. A related term is manifesto, an Italian word with a sense of denunciation, which came to be applied to policy statements and declarations of beliefs; the best known of these is Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s Communist Manifesto.

In the military organization of the Roman Empire, a maniple, numbering 60 or 120 men, was the unit equivalent to a company in a modern army. The word, from the Latin term manipulus, meaning “handful,” perhaps alluded to the relatively small size of the unit compared to the empire’s basic tactical force, the legion, which consisted of thousands of men. (A similar unit is the century—centuria in Latin—based on the word denoting one hundred of something, hence our use of the term to refer to that many years; centurion was the word for an officer in command of such a unit.) Maniple also referred to a strip (literally a handful) of silk formerly worn by certain clerics during a Catholic mass.

Manicure, meaning “treatment of the hand and fingernails,” is from Latin by way of French, as is the equivalent pedicure, based on the Latin root ped- (the basis of pedal, pedestrian, and many other words pertaining to feet). Manicotti, the word for a tube-shaped pasta and the dish made from it, is from the plural for the Italian word for muff, from Latin manica, meaning “sleeve,” which derives from manus.

But mania, referring to a symptom of mental illness and by extension to excitement in general, though it came to us from Latin, is originally Greek in derivation, from menos, meaning “spirit.” And manifold, meaning “many” or “various,” is from Old English, and the first half of the word is simply an alteration of the older form of many.

Other words not related to the Latin root include manikin, also spelled mannikin but usually styled in the French form mannequin, referring to a life-size model of a human body used for displaying clothing; the term is from the Dutch word for “little man,” and the first two spellings can also pertain to a dwarf or other small person.

Another non-Latin word beginning with mani- is manioc, another name for cassava, a tropical plant whose root is the source of tapioca. (That word, and manioc, are derived from the language of a people indigenous to Brazil; cassava is based on a word of the Taino, native to the Caribbean region.) Yet another word that stems from a Native American language is manitou, referring to a supernatural force, from the Ojibwa (also called the Chippewa), who were based around the Great Lakes.

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2 thoughts on “A Handy Guide to Words Starting with Mani-”

  1. Many people today leave off the -d or -ed when using adjectives. Examples are life-size model (as in the explanation of manikin), which should be life-sized model; teenage boy (teenaged); and cream cheese (creamed). The poor misused adjectives!
    And don’t even get me started on the misuse of reflexive pronouns!

  2. Rachel—

    The forms you criticize are in fact correct, and in the first two cases, the forms you prefer are variants of the dominant form.

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