I write all the time about French, German, Latin and Greek influences on the English language, but I believe this week’s column will mark a first for the Grammar Guy: A word of Dutch origin.
Now, we’ve gotten plenty of great words from the Dutch – like “furlough” and “galoot” – but this week we’re talking about “manikin.” If the spelling looks strange, know that you aren’t alone.
The word actually came to our language twice: Once, as “manikin,” from Dutch; and again as “mannequin,” from French (although, really even the French word comes from the original Dutch word, mannekijn).
Both words have kept very similar meanings in English. The Dutch “manikin” is used primarily to refer to a jointed model of the human body, as might be used in anatomy or by an artist. The most common application of “manikin” you probably haven’t been using? A CPR manikin.
The French version, “mannequin,” is probably the definition you’re more familiar with: a dummy used to display clothes in a store window. It’s also the name of a questionable rom-com from the ’80s starring Kim Cattrall and Andrew McCarthy, but that’s neither here nor there.
The practical question, of course, is, “Are they interchangeable?” The answer here is “no.” For the sort of anatomical model you’d see in a medical setting or biology classroom, the correct choice is “manikin.” For dummies used to hawk the latest fashions, stick with “mannequin.”
My gut feeling is you could probably get away with only using “mannequin” without being questioned, but, then again, you also probably don’t read this column because you like avoiding grammatical technicalities.