"The Man" is a slang phrase, used in the United States, that may refer tothe government or to some other authority in a position of power. In addition to this derogatory connotation, it may serve as a term of respect and praise. The phrase "the Man is keeping me down" is commonly used to describe oppression. The phrase "stick it to the Man" encourages resistance to authority, and essentially means "fight back" or "resist", either passively, openly or via sabotage.
As a phrase meaning "the boss" it dates from at least 1918. In the Southern U.S., the phrase came to be applied to any man or any group in a position of authority, or to authority in the abstract. From about the 1950s the phrase was also an underworldcode word for police, the warden of a prison or other law enforcement or penal authorities. The use of this term was expanded to counterculture groups and their battles against authority, such as the Yippies, which, according to a May 19, 1969 article in U.S. News and World Report, had the "avowed aim... to destroy 'The Man', their term for the present system of government". The term eventually found its way into humorous usage, such as in a December 1979 motorcycle ad from the magazineEasyriders which featured the tagline, "California residents: Add 6% sales tax for The Man." In present day, the phrase has been popularized in commercials and cinema. It was featured particularly prominently as a recurring motif in the 2003 filmSchool of Rock. The film Undercover Brother had as a plot element a fictional organization headed by "The Man", an actual man in charge of oppressing African Americans.
Use as praise
The term has also been used as an approbation or form of praise. This may refer to the recipient's status as the leader or authority within a particular context, or it might be assumed to be a shortened form of a phrase like "He is the man." In more modern usage, it can be a superlative compliment indicating that the subject is currently standing out amongst their peers even though they have no special designation or rank, such as a basketball player who is performing better than the other players on the court. It can also be used as a genuine compliment with an implied, slightly exaggerated or sarcastic tone, usually indicating that the person has indeed impressed the speaker but by doing something relatively trivial. The phrase has also been used in professional wrestling to refer to the top stars in the business. Some notable examples include Ric Flair, Seth Rollins, and Becky Lynch.