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.

  • 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
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    Because of sexism! – F'x Sep 11 '11 at 13:31
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    @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
  • @tchrist - I'm pretty sure an anthropomorphised personification of Death is normally a he. – AndyT Jan 24 '17 at 15:56

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.


It is because only female carries the direct increase/multiplication through reproduction; that's why we also say mother tongue.

  • You may be right about mother tongues, but websites don't reproduce? – curiousdannii Nov 14 '14 at 11:12
  • @curiousdannii but a sister-site is a type of offspring. – Mari-Lou A Nov 14 '14 at 11:50
  • Not if the sister sites are planned and founded together... – curiousdannii Nov 14 '14 at 12:37

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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    Although I generally agree with your opinion on the political correctness as a cause of over-using feminine in many other cases, in this particular case I'd guess that the Peter Shor's answer would be closer to reality. In my native language (Czech) where the political correctness has not (yet :( ) infested the language with the "gender correctness weeds" so much as English, I also feel "sister site" as much natural than "brother site", and the only reason is the language feeling itself. – Honza Zidek Nov 14 '14 at 10:45

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