"mano a mano": another turn on the wheel

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Jan 27 02:06:59 UTC 2012

Some of you will recall our discussion a few years back of the reanalysis of this expression, although it seems not to have made it into the eggcorn database.  We batted around such delights as "mano y mano", "mano on mano", and my favorites, "mano-a-womano" and "womano-a-womano"*, all eloquently testifying to the shift in how the expression tends to be (mis)understood.  (Or, to be nonjudgmental, reunderstood.)  

Well, in his commentary following yet another classic four-set match between Federer and Nadal in the Australian Open semis this morning, ESPN announcer Chris Fowler summarizes the outcome to fellow commentator Patrick McEnroe (who had just observed that Nadal always seems to have the answers against Federer "when they go out there one-on-one"):

"Yes, [Federer's] winning streak coming in at 4, but as you said, all of that's out the window when it's hombre et hombre on the court: Nadal through in four to the final".    

So "mano a mano" > "mano y mano" > "man and man" > "hombre et hombre"

Yes, that's "hombre et hombre": [ambreEDambre], with flapped [D] as in "et al." Hard to believe, perhaps, but I figure Fowler provided the (partial) Spanish translation in honor of the Mallorcan Nadal, and then, suddenly realizing that Nadal's native language is Catalan rather than Spanish but not knowing the Catalan for "and", helpfully offered the Latin conjunction.  

*e.g., from my files: 

Both shows [Prime Time Live and 20/20] had been going mano-a-mano, or rather womano-a-womano, competing for the same stories and interviews. (Surely you recall all those colorful Diane Sawyer-vs.-Barbara Walters tales.)

Multi-sport races were designed to be Mano y Mano - man against man - with no distinct advantage. Or for those who have two parts to their bathing suits - that might be womano y womano. I'll have to check my Spanish dictionary.

"We channelled the spirits of the rock-and-roll gods as we launched into a vicious contest of dueling guitars. Two virtuosos mano-a-mano. Well, mano-a-kiddo."

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list