Ships as "she"
Posted by Roman Korolenko on January 10, 2003
In Reply to: Ships as "she" posted by ESC on January 05, 2003
: : : Hello!
: : : I'm a young researcher interested in the topic of gender and language. I know that in English the pronoun "she" could be referred to ships and cars. The conceptual analysis of the she-category brought me an unusual idea about the she-reference.
: : : The analysis showed that there are at least six cognitive metaphors in the conceptual system that make us believe ships are feminine:
: : : 1. SHIP IS
: : : 2. SHIP IS ATTRACTIVE WOMAN
: : : 3. BAPTIZM OF SHIP IS BAPTIZM OF HUMAN BEING
: : : 4. DECOMISSIONING OF SHIP IS DEATH
: : : 5. SHIP'S BODY IS HUMAN BODY
: : : 6. SHIP'S MOVEMENTS ARE BODY MOVEMENTS
: : : The most prominent one is the first metaphor that can also be traced in cars. Ships, cars and women are "containers" that carry a load in themselves and finaly deliver it. Also ships and mothers secure the life of the load. The load is viewed as something precious.
: : : These results of the analysis are so unusual that I want to put them on the agenda here looking forward to hearing your opinion.
: : Sincerely yours,
: : : Roman Korolenko
: : We tossed this one around a bit. See discussion at link below (https://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/10/messages/142.html).
: SHIPS AS 'SHE' - "Many people wonder why a ship is referred to as a 'she.' The explanation is that it was customary in early days to dedicate a ship to a goddess, under whose protection she sailed. The ship carried the diety's carved image on her bow not as a decoration, as later generations imagined, but as an aid to finding the way." From "How Did it Begin?" by R. Brasch (Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1969).
The above mentioned explanation seems doubtful
to me. The practice of using "she" with reference to ships started in 16th century
- at the age of Christianity in Europe. People no longer believed in pagan gods
or goddesses - they believed in God.
A ship was protected by God's blessing that was given during a ceremony of ship christening (see: Reilly, John C. Christening, Launching and Commissioning. Washington, D.C., 1975.). The ceremony has its roots in the Christian ritual of baptism when a child was given a name and God's blessing. Sailors christened a ship because they thought God would protect it at sea. The tradition of ship christening attributes human qualities to a ship but not feminine. This cultural practice supports the cognitive metaphor: LAUNCH OF SHIP IS BAPTIZM OF PERSON.
As for the figure-head, Britannica says: "During this period (16th century), the fashions in figureheads varied from carvings of saints to national emblems, such as the lion and the unicorn, to a simple scroll and a billethead, and finally to a carved representation of the person for whom the vessel was named or of a female relative".
As you see, figureheads were not limited to a goddess, they varied and protection was given by God's blessing, not by some deity.