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汉子 (son/person of Han) was - in ancient China - a term used by various people north of China to refer to the Chinese, but over time has been used by the Chinese to refer to themselves, and by the Qing dynasty, was already being used as a complimentary term for a "true" or "heroic" man, as in the terms 好汉 and 男子汉. The term is used to embody various masculine ideals, such as:

好汉不提当年勇 (A hero is silent about his past glories)

好汉做事好汉当 (a true man has the courage to accept the consequences of his own actions)

However, 汉子 (and its related terms) seem to be classified using 条, which is unusual because normally when 条 is used on people, it is derogatory, for example 一条走狗 (traitorous dog) or 一条豺狼 (brutal jackal). And yet it is used for 汉子, which is supposed to be a compliment:

京剧《黑旋风李逵》第四场:“我看你是条汉子,为何不投奔 梁山 ?”

隋唐十八条好汉

二十年后又是一条好汉

So why use this particular measure word?

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I don't think measure words convey respect or disrespect. 个 and 只 can also be used on 走狗 and 豺狼. See also this question. 条 is used as a measure word for anything elongated in shape. I guess that includes humans as well :) –  Question Overflow Oct 8 '13 at 11:18
    
@QuestionOverflow Normally, I'd agree with you.. until my mum starts using 只 to refer to an individual. I'd consider that offensive :P. –  deutschZuid Oct 9 '13 at 23:41
    
@deutschZuid, how did she use it? What is the noun she use? –  Question Overflow Oct 10 '13 at 1:56
    
@QuestionOverflow Anything. 人, 死人, 外国人, 小鬼 and etc. She's the only one I know who uses 只 this way. –  deutschZuid Oct 11 '13 at 1:27
    
@deutschZuid, interesting... Introduce the measure word 条 to her next time. :) –  Question Overflow Oct 11 '13 at 2:53
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1 Answer

First, your are correct that 汉子 is more commonly being refer to as a man / manhood. And 条 is quantifier for refering things that are long, straight. So go figure =P.

However, 条 is not derogatory. We also use 条 for a life e.g. 一条人命, or a river 一条河, or loyalty 一条心. So it very much depends on the context.

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+1 for bringing up 条 is also the measure word for 命:) –  NS.X. Oct 9 '13 at 22:19
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