Just as “history” is not derived from his + story (or as some pun, her + story), as folk etymology would have it, neither is “woman” from womb/woe/wee + man. The early Old English (OE) wif – from the Proto-Germanic wibam, “woman” – originally denoted a female, and later became the Middle English (ME) wif, wiif, wyf. By 1175 it was starting to be used to mean a married female, with the two meanings coexisting until the late 16th century. Another meaning of market trader or saleswoman emerged in the late 14th century, which survives in such sayings as “to swear like a fishwife”. An OE word for a man was wer – we still see this today in werewolf; wer + wulf ( wolf). The word mann , from the Proto-Indo-European root man , tended to be gender neutral, meaning “someone, one, human”. Only after the Norman conquest, in the 11th century, did mann start narrowing to be used more for males, replacing wer by around the late 13th century. With wif acquiring more specific meanings, the word “woman” was formed by compounding wif + mann . Over time, the “f” mutated into “m”. And in early Middle English, the “ee” vowel in the first syllable became rounded to “o” or “u” as a consequence of the preceding labial “w” (a sound that uses the lips), with spelling changed accordingly. This form eventually became restricted to singular “woman”, with the form with the unrounded vowel, pronounced “wi-man”, used for plural women. This could have been a result of harmony with the respective vowels in the second syllable – in ME, masculine nouns such as “man” used the letters “a” or “o” for the singular and “e” for plural – or partly by analogy with paradigms like foot, feet. And just as the position of women has continued to evolve in many societies, so too has the word’s form and scope. The feminist spelling “womyn” (singular “womon”) – first appearing in print in 1975, and in the Oxford English Dictionary since 2006 – avoids defining women in reference to male norms and forms. And “womxn”, originating in 1971 but gaining greater visibility in the early 2010s, demands greater fluidity and inclusiveness, encompassing trans women and non-binary people. Whatever our views on alternative spellings, such orthographic politics does contribute to broadening perceptions and challenging stereotypes for a more gender equal world – in the spirit of International Women’s Day, on March 8, this year themed #EachForEqual.