human, humane, humanitarian
1. The notion that human should only be used as an adjective and that human being should be used for the noun is found in some older usage books (though not Fowler, 1926) but is not supported by the weight of usage. Many examples of human as a noun will be found in OED2, to which may be added:

• There rose before his inward sight the picture of a human at once heroic and sick —William Golding, 1954

• The human got in and, still holding the box with exaggerated care, placed it on its knees —T. Pratchett, 1992

• Sorry, dear, I forgot that you humans need to eat every day —J. Slater, 2003.

2. As an adjective, human is used predominantly as a classifying word in non-judgemental contexts, qualifying words such as body, eye, life, mind, nature, race, rights, and voice. The difference between human and humane in their judgemental meanings is that human denotes a generalized quality that distinguishes (actual or ideal) human behaviour from that of non-humans, whereas humane denotes a quality as it affects treatment of other people: (human)

• When he pushed the postern closed behind him she stepped back into the gateway, eyeing him with very human caution —J. Byrne, 1993

• To highlight his human qualities, Kong was given more expressive features than a normal gorilla —Times, 2004

• (humane) This is only a temporary solution and there have been many attempts to organise more humane working systems —W. T. Singleton, 1989

• We must…seek a more humane way to deal with asylum-seekers that keeps families together —Morning Star, 2007.

Note, however, that humane is used with reference to animals as well as people:

• There is a range of attitudes including the position of those who can accept whaling in principle if it can be made more humane in practice —Animal Welfare, 1992

• A dog's ear infection was so severe that the only humane option was for him to be put to sleep, a court heard —South Wales Echo, 2007.

3. Humanitarian is a 19c word and was originally a noun used in theological contexts. From the 1850s it has had the adjectival meaning ‘practising humanity or humane action’, and it is a common word in modern contexts of international aid and support:

• Reports from Jordan indicated that Iraqi businessmen fearful of incurring penalties were no longer prepared even to transport food and essential humanitarian supplies to Iraq —Keesings, 1990.

In more recent use it has developed a wider meaning relating to wars and catastrophes, as in humanitarian crisis, disaster, etc., where the sense is ‘requiring humanitarian action’, in effect the opposite of the original meaning. Usage is stretched too far if it is treated virtually as equivalent to humane: ☒ A legal war is not necessarily a humanitarian war.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Humanitarian — Hu*man i*ta ri*an, a. 1. (Theol. & Ch. Hist.) Pertaining to humanitarians, or to humanitarianism; as, a humanitarian view of Christ s nature. [1913 Webster] 2. (Philos.) Content with right affections and actions toward man; ethical, as… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • humanitarian — index benefactor, benevolent, charitable (lenient), donor, good Samaritan, humane, liberal (generou …   Law dictionary

  • humanitarian — [adj] giving, compassionate altruistic, beneficent, benevolent, charitable, eleemosynary, generous, good, humane, idealistic, kindly, philanthropic, public spirited; concept 542 Ant. egoistic, egotistic, inhumanitarian, uncompassionate, ungiving… …   New thesaurus

  • humanitarian — ► ADJECTIVE ▪ concerned with or seeking to promote human welfare. ► NOUN ▪ a humanitarian person. DERIVATIVES humanitarianism noun …   English terms dictionary

  • Humanitarian — Hu*man i*ta ri*an, n. [From {Humanity}.] 1. (Theol. & Ch. Hist.) One who denies the divinity of Christ, and believes him to have been merely human. [1913 Webster] 2. (Philos.) One who limits the sphere of duties to human relations and affections …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • humanitarian — 1794 (n.) in the theological sense one who affirms the humanity of Christ but denies his pre existence and divinity, from humanity + suffix from unitarian, etc.; see HUMANISM (Cf. humanism). Meaning “philanthropist, one who advocates or… …   Etymology dictionary

  • humanitarian — humane, benevolent, philanthropic, eleemosynary, *charitable, altruistic …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • humanitarian — [hyo͞o man΄ə ter′ē ən, yo͞oman΄ə ter′ē ən] n. 1. a person devoted to promoting the welfare of humanity, esp. through the elimination of pain and suffering; philanthropist 2. an adherent of HUMANITARIANISM (sense 2) adj. 1. helping humanity 2. of… …   English World dictionary

  • humanitarian — I UK [hjuːˌmænɪˈteərɪən] / US [hjuˌmænɪˈterɪən] adjective a) relating to efforts to help people who are living in very bad conditions and are suffering because of a war, flood, earthquake etc humanitarian aid/supplies/relief (= food, clothes,… …   English dictionary

  • humanitarian — hu|man|i|tar|i|an1 [ hju,mænı teriən ] adjective relating to people who live in very bad conditions and to other people s efforts to help them: humanitarian aid/supplies/relief (=food, clothes, medicine and shelter): Humanitarian relief efforts… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • humanitarian — [[t]hjuːmæ̱nɪte͟əriən[/t]] humanitarians ADJ: usu ADJ n If a person or society has humanitarian ideas or behaviour, they try to avoid making people suffer or they help people who are suffering. Air bombardment raised criticism on the humanitarian …   English dictionary

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