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.

While talking about ships and countries, is it a good practice to use the feminine form? For example:

"Her economy" - while referring to a country's economy "Her flag (or deck etc)" - while referring to a ship

Is this practice common? Is it used today?

share|improve this question
add comment

5 Answers

I would say for nations it's kind of archaic but for ships I don't see why it would fall out of use. It's just traditional to refer to ships as "she" or "her" and is not in any way sexist or offensive to women. Anyone finding offense in this matter is trying awfully hard to get offended. Another example of political correctness run amok.

share|improve this answer
    
That's a pretty big leap of opinion there. Personally, I don't think it's my place to judge when somebody else should be allowed to be offended. It will likely fall out of use over time. I'm a guy and I find it to be a creepy practice. –  Preston Fitzgerald Jan 20 at 2:43
add comment

I am a Master Mariner and ships have always been referred to in the female gender. In ancient days of old ships usually always bore female names. "It takes a lot of work and tender loving care, as well as a lot of paint to make a ship look good" Most sailing ships from the middle ages always had a statue of a female on the upper bow, right under the bowsprit...

share|improve this answer
add comment

Ships are usually called she on the grounds that they have definite personalities; if you feel that the computerized container ship Osaka Maru No. 37 does not qualify, it will certainly be understood.

And some countries are feminine; both Britain and Russia have been commonly referred to as 'the Motherland' and personified as Britannia and Mother Russia respectively. But others are not: Germany is well-known to be 'the Fatherland'. I would have thought Uncle Sam's land is also masculine, but would be glad of some definite information.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Depending on who you're talking to, it is definitely good practice to use the feminine form for ships.

My friend once worked for the Ministry of Defence and had to telephone the Royal Navy to ask for a ship's current location (let's use HMS Victory).

"I'm calling about HMS Victory. Please can you tell me its current location?" was answered with "Sorry, I don't know what you're talking about", as were his replies "HMS Victory, I'd like to know exactly where it is".

Finally the naval officer explained that ships are referred to as "she", and after the question was rephrased like "where is she?" was an answer given. He never made the same mistake again.

share|improve this answer
1  
Sticklers, the Naval lot. –  Orbling Sep 8 '11 at 13:52
6  
@Orbling - Yeah. Just try calling one of their ships a "boat", and see what different shades they turn. –  T.E.D. Sep 9 '11 at 18:59
2  
@T.E.D. Unless of course you're talking about a submarine. –  Hugo Sep 9 '11 at 19:05
add comment

Wikipedia is pretty accurate on this one:

The origins of this practice are not certain, and it is currently in decline (though still more common for ships, particularly in nautical usage, than for countries). In modern English, calling objects "she" is an optional figure of speech, and is advised against by most journalistic style guides such as the Chicago Manual of Style.

Using “she” for ships is still fairly common, and will not stand out as odd in most contexts; but it is becoming less common, and is discouraged by most authorities (both stylistic and maritime).

Using “she” for countries is now quite archaic. It can certainly still be used, but only if you want to very explicitly conjure up a personification of the country:

Ah, proud Britain! How she is fallen! Once her empire bestrode the globe; now, her power decimated, her economy hobbled, she wavers uncertainly between the behemoths of the US and Europe on either side, …

Except in a case like this where she is used for deliberate rhetorical effect, one would always expect it, its instead:

Britain faces tough years. It stands to receive a fresh influx of immigrants, even while its economy still struggles…

Googling confirms the overwhelming prevalence of its. Even for France, with a comparatively enduring female personification, google hits for "France faces its" outnumber hits for "France faces her" by a factor of about 6 (matching in each case phrases like “France faces her toughest challenge yet…”); and for other countries I tried (eg Britain) the disparity is much larger (a factor of about 100).

share|improve this answer
2  
Not sure I like the choice of quotes! But otherwise good. –  Orbling Feb 15 '11 at 0:54
    
Jim Morrison wrote a song about the city of Los Angeles as if the city was a woman. –  oosterwal Feb 15 '11 at 5:07
3  
@Orbling: well, exemplifying the rhetorical use needs something extravagant, and as a (certain kind of) rather old-fashioned Englishman, I’m much happier being cynical and self-deprecating than openly patriotic (although of course writing so emotionally in any direction doesn’t come naturally to me at all)… :-P –  PLL Feb 15 '11 at 20:26
2  
LOL, certainly better to be self-deprecating than patriotic. Modesty is the English way. –  Orbling Feb 15 '11 at 22:10
5  
@Orbling - I thought hanging on in quiet desperation was the English way. I'm gonna have to go find that Pink guy and give him a piece of my mind... –  T.E.D. Sep 7 '11 at 21:29
show 1 more comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

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