The famous quote by Rowena Ravenclaw is

Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure.

But Ravenclaw is a woman. So why did she use "man" instead of using "person or something else"? I found it really weird as the writer JK Rowling is also female.

  • To keep the rhyme.
    – Philipp
    Mar 15, 2019 at 6:21
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    @Philipp The word "man" does not rhyme with any other word in the quote. Mar 15, 2019 at 6:26
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    That is true. The measure is important too, 1 syllable, 2 syllables, 2 syllabes. See Mikes answer, "people" or "mankind" would change the flow.
    – Philipp
    Mar 15, 2019 at 6:32
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    @Philipp The measure/meter/rhythm would be preserved by substituting "one's" or "our" for "man's." Mar 15, 2019 at 6:49
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    Probably because this is essentially an English language question and 1) some users don't like these types of questions on here and 2) the site is an English site so the answer is "obvious" (most people don't account for those whose first language is not English).
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Mar 15, 2019 at 16:56

3 Answers 3


Hogwarts was founded over a thousand years ago, and the English language was different back then. The word "man" began its existence as a Proto-Germanic word meaning "member of the human species, regardless of gender or age." Over time, the meaning of "man" has gradually shifted so that today it usually refers only to mature males. However, the word has retained the secondary meaning of referring to people of any gender, or indeed, humanity as a species.

Literature is replete with the traditional, gender-neutral definition of "man," so it remains unclear whether Rowling was aware of the word's history or was simply following literary example. In either case, however, the simple reason behind her word choice is: etymology.


I hope you have found your answer at this point, but just in case you haven’t: “man” here means “mankind,” “humankind,” etc. For example, “Man’s greatest treasure” means “Mankind’s greatest treasure.” If J.K. Rowling (or Rowena Ravenclaw, I guess) wanted to indicate gender, she would have used “men.” In short, “man” means “mankind”/“humankind.”

“A man”/“The man” = “a male.” ONE MALE (this is important in a few seconds).

“Man,” when used alone (without “a”/“the”/etc.) , = “mankind.”

If J.K. Rowling had wanted to apply the quote to the male gender only, she would have written “[...] men’s greatest treasure.” She would have pluralized it.


If, as you say, it is a quote, then she was probably just sticking to the original words. Ms Ravenclaw may just not have been fussed enough about such matters to bother changing it.

Also, to my ears at least the line flows a bit more smoothly if a one-syllable word is used rather than a two-syllable one.

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