Sunday, December 3, 2017

Distinctions that make a noun male or female made perfectly clear

Which language is easier to learn, English or Italian? Some may say Italian, because every letter has the same sound every time. In English, letters can have vastly different sounds, and one has to learn how to pronounce each word. One famous example that advocates of English language reform like to cite is ‟ghoti,” which can be defined as ‟a limbless cold-blooded vertebrate animal with gills and fins and living wholly in water.” That’s right, un pesce. How could that be? ‟Gh” can be pronounced as ‟f,” (enough). ‟O” as ‟i” (women). And ‟ti” as ‟s” (motion).

But then, one has to consider those pesky masculine and feminine nouns in Italian—and many other languages as well. For English speakers, grammatical gender is one of the most vexing aspects of language learning. In addition, it sometimes seems that grammatical gender doesn’t match up with the “natural gender” of the person or object being described. In Portuguese, the word mulherão means “voluptuous woman.” However, the word itself is masculine. In Italian, a woman’s breasts are seni, a masculine noun. Virilità, the Italian word for “manliness” is feminine (as is also the case in Spanish, Latin, German, Polish, Russian and Hindi).

However, sometimes the logic is clear, as in the situation with some of these newer (and a few older) words.

FREEZER BAGS: These are male. They hold everything in, but you can see right through them.
PHOTOCOPIERS: These are female, because once turned off they take a while to warm up again. Also, they are effective reproductive devices if the right buttons are pushed, but pushing the wrong ones wreaks havoc.
TIRES: Male, because they easily go bald and are often over-inflated.
SPONGES: These are female, because they are soft and squeezable and they retain water.
WEB PAGES: Female, because they’re constantly being viewed and frequently get hit on.
TRAINS: Definitely male, because they always use the same old lines for picking up people.
HAMMERS: Also male, because in the last 5000 years, they’ve hardly changed at all, yet it’s sometimes handy to have one around the house.
THE REMOTE CONTROL: Female. Ha! You probably were thinking male, but consider this: It easily gives a man pleasure, he’d be lost without it, and while he doesn’t always know which buttons to push, he just keeps trying anyway.
GPS DEVICES: Gender neutral. They are a perfect blend of male and female. They’re always positive they know the best way, yet the voice giving instructions is infinitely patient when we make a wrong turn.


  1. Omygosh! I love this, Paul and Lucy, mostly because you have a great way of writing, but also because (for some reason?) I have such a love for Italy...and it was there before I even heard of Al. I can hardly wait for the next episode. Gloria


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