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This came up recently on programmers.SE, when someone (a Russian, presumably non-native English speaker) asked why we used the term "sister sites", instead of "brother sites". Of course, I'm a native English speaker, and I have no idea either, hence this question.

The full question, for context, was "Several of our sister sites have taken to featuring Questions [...]".

It does seem odd, considering that English (usually) uses masculine terms as the default.

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It's a good question. There are many inanimate objects that are referred to in the feminine, such as boats, cities, and other hand-crafted or exquisite objects like delicate swords for example. Thus you hear utterances like "thar she blows," and "isn't she a beauty." I don't know the origin but I too would be interested to hear some theories. –  Mark Sep 11 '11 at 13:25
Because of sexism! –  F'x Sep 11 '11 at 13:31
@F'x, I don't know if that's a joke comment or not, but it certainly isn't an answer (in the sense of explaining a specific fact). If the question had been "why do we use the term 'brother sites'?", you could equally reply, "because of sexism". It doesn't explain why one term is chosen over another. –  John C Sep 11 '11 at 17:48
I almost want to say that things never get personified into hes in English, only into shes. –  tchrist Apr 18 '13 at 12:28

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I suspect the terminology sister sites is derived from sister cities. Traditionally, cities, countries, and ships have been personified as feminine in English, although this is growing less common due to the influence of women's rights.

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Political Correctness.

Many (most?) tech books now tend to refer to users, programmers, etc in the feminine just to avoid the inevitable assertions that the use of the masculine implies that the author thinks only men can be "real" programmers, etc.

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