Posted by R. Berg on August 09, 2001
In Reply to: "She" posted by Markitos on August 08, 2001
: : : Why are certain vessels (boats, automobiles) called she. Why are they known in a feminine way. For example "she is a beauty" when referring to a new car.
: : Because you have to treat them like a lady or they will act up and cause havoc.
: The concept of gender in English nouns has little use--it gets more of a workout in other languages like Spanish, German and French. where the gender controls the form of the noun depending on the case in which it is used (subject, object, etc.), whether it's plural, etc. Most nouns referring to inanimate objects in English are neutral, in other words, they're "its." For animate creatures, unless the sex is known, the default gender tends to be female (as in, "Nice fish you caught there, Earl," "Yep, she's a beauty.") Cars, boats, and musical instruments have a liminal quality as objects that causes us to engender them female (perhaps for reasons that would sound atavistically sexist if argued--see last follow-up)....Note that this convention has been transgressed in the case of hurricanes (which are now proportionately himacanes)....
Who you callin' atavistically sexist? With the "vessel" business, I had in mind that the size and function of a ship might subliminally remind men of their experiences as small boys, when mamma was a large, imposing, enclosing (with arms) figure who carried them around. Really. Without some such intuitive understanding, we have a hard time explaining why people say "the mother ship."
Why are musical instruments in this category? --rb