Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

This question already has an answer here:

You might like our sister site, English Language Learners

I have read this time and time again in replies to users who ask questions which are not a good fit for EL&U but are so for ELL.

I am curious to find out why you are calling it your sister site instead of your brother site or your friend or neighbor. Also, are you her sister or are you her brother?

share|improve this question

migrated from meta.english.stackexchange.com Apr 18 '13 at 14:44

This question came from our discussion, support, and feature requests site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

marked as duplicate by simchona Apr 19 '13 at 4:42

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

2  
In English, things are personified into shes, not into hes. –  tchrist Apr 18 '13 at 12:31
1  
@tchrist So does it mean you both are shes? –  Persian Cat Apr 18 '13 at 12:32
2  
Well, it does not mean that, but since we are things, we must needs be shes if we’re to have any sex at all. –  tchrist Apr 18 '13 at 12:34
6  
All Stack exchange sites are sisters. EL&U is the sister of ELL which is the sister of EL&U. See the fifth definition for sister. –  Matt Эллен Apr 18 '13 at 12:37
1  
@Persian Cat: you are right. It is not a duplicate. The metaphor of using sister might once have been connected with referring to things as she (though I doubt even that), but in today's language it is entirely separate. –  Colin Fine Apr 19 '13 at 14:30
show 7 more comments

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Sister is the common metaphor in English for an object or organization sharing the same origin or having a similar mutual close commonality: sister stations, Sister Cities, sister newspapers, sister schools, sister organizations, and so forth. The different branches of the armed forces are sister services (but brothers-in-arms). The metaphorical sense is included in every dictionary definition I checked.

Ships have been personified as females in Western languages for as long as anyone can remember. In Germanic languages, companion ships are known as sister ships-- schwesterschiff, zusterschip, systerskepp. (In the Romance world, she is a "twin," and the sister ship a navire-jumeau, nave gemella, etc.) I surmise this convention has been loosely extended, to other objects and organizations, most notably vessels but also countries, storms, and so on. Almost every poetic personification of a Western country is female: Brittania, Marianne, Columbia, Helvetia, Mother Svea, etc.

While referring to inanimate things as female is in decline, I do not perceive the use of sister for describe a pairing as out of fashion or frowned upon.

share|improve this answer
1  
The information about ships and countries, while true, is completely irrelevant. The metaphor is sister (organisation, branch, project, deparment, college etc), but that does not imply that we refer to the organisation etc as she. –  Colin Fine Apr 18 '13 at 18:10
2  
@ColinFine I would assert quite the opposite. Ordinary inanimate things personified-- churches, bridges, towns, and so on-- were historically referred to as if female (I defy you to find a university song where the institution is a he or an it). Two of a kind would very naturally be called sisters. The first usage is falling out of favor, but the latter remains. –  choster Apr 18 '13 at 22:56
1  
OK. You believe that the use of sister derives from a former habit of personification as female; I believe that they are pretty well independent. We're probably not going to resolve this. Either way, it is clear that today, sister is productive in this sense even for things that nobody would personify (eg nodes in an abstract tree structure). –  Colin Fine Apr 19 '13 at 14:23
add comment

As @Matt suggests, have a look at what Oxford dict has to say on sister:

5 [as modifier]: denoting an organization or place which bears a relationship to another of common origin or allegiance or mutual association: Securicor and its sister company Securicor Services a sister ship

And different cultures/languages have things personified into different genders. And as @tchrist pointed out, in English 'things' are personified as 'shes'. Have a look at this wiki resource that talk about genders. Notice in the image there, that 'inanimate' objects are placed in the Feminine set when it come to Russian, Latin, Sanskrit. Hope that helps.

share|improve this answer
    
In many languages there are different articles for different genders and "things" are clearly female or male like French and Arabic but we do not have such thing in English and it is only a choice by people. –  Persian Cat Apr 18 '13 at 16:26
    
check above. my things is not in italics. When I say ...languages have things personified...., I did not reference it to the word: things. But merely to what it means. –  camelbrush Apr 18 '13 at 16:50
add comment

I am curious to find out why you are calling it your sister site instead of your brother site.

'Sister' is just the common metaphor. 'Sibling' is becoming more common.

Also, are you her sister or are you her brother?

In the phrase 'ELL is our sister site' or, less metaphorically, 'she is my sister', the word 'sister' is talking about the thing modified, the object of discussion, the predicate, or the target. Nothing is being said in that relation about the sex of the source or narrator. 'X is the sister of Y' means that X is female, but you don't know the sex of Y at all.

share|improve this answer
    
Surely it is obvious that X is the sister of Y and doesn't talk about the gender of Y but I asked it at first in the meta site to find out more than it seems by words and grammar. It was a question of people who use it to find out what they think about their genders too as a site. –  Persian Cat Apr 18 '13 at 16:48
add comment

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.