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In English, objects are not generally gendered, as we have neutral pronouns used specifically for that purpose. I've noticed that when gendered pronouns are used for non-gendered objects, though, people generally tend to use female pronouns.

e.g:

  • "New Amsterdam", by Moondog:

"[...]For she's [New York] been loving to me/And I'm the better for having met her."

  • Airplanes
  • People referring to boat names as female, in general

Why does this phenomenon happen? Is there any specific reason or meaning for these constructions?

Note: English is not my mother tongue, so please, if this is actually a common english mechanism for native speakers, tell me so I can post it at ELL.

  • It's caused by the objectifying of objects. (Actually, I would not be surprised if part of it is due to oddities of Dutch or German or some such where a neutral pronoun in the source language did not have a corresponding neutral pronoun in English, and hence the closest-sounding (and feminine) pronoun was used instead.) – Hot Licks Jul 27 '18 at 22:26
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    It's the opposite of the objectivization of females -- men changing females into objects mentally. This is the femalization of objects -- men changing objects into females mentally. Why? Note that the examples express affection. This is a strategy for men to express their affection, in a way most men and some women can understand, and tolerate. – John Lawler Jul 27 '18 at 22:48
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    Possible duplicate of Why are ships always female? – AmE speaker Jul 28 '18 at 7:06
  • In software contexts, I've observed the opposite: when people anthropomorphize a component, they consistently use masculine nouns and pronouns. So I'm not sure your premise is quite right, though it's an interesting question either way. – ruakh Aug 13 '18 at 15:34
  • Possible duplicate of Pronoun question: referring to inanimate objects as 'he' or 'she' – Mari-Lou A Aug 13 '18 at 16:21
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English did not get "boat" from French. English–a Germanic language–got the word "boat" from its origins. In Dutch and German "Boat" is feminine. (Het woord “Boot” is vrouwelijke).

Almost everything (inanimate) in English that is hollow is feminine, like Dutch and German. City (stad) in Dutch and German is feminine as well. Words such as room, boat, ship, automobile, etc. are feminine.

Is a sword referred to as a “she”?

  • The Oxford English Dictionary says that the word "boat" was "In Old English usually a strong masculine; the existence of a strong feminine by-form is apparently shown by the accusative singular form bāte in an isolated attestion in the 10th-cent. Cleopatra Gloss." The German word Schiff "ship" is neuter, not feminine; the same goes for the Old English cognate scip. Even though the German noun "Stadt" is feminine, the names of cities themselves are neuter as a rule in German. – sumelic Aug 13 '18 at 17:59
  • Could you post the link of said Oxford English dictionary and the exact definition printed.? – Sylomun Weah Aug 14 '18 at 16:39
  • The current, online edition of the OED requires a subscription, but I quoted the exact wording of the relevant section of the entry for boat. Also, I hadn't checked this when I posted my previous comment, but it looks like the German noun Boot is neuter: duden.de/rechtschreibung/Boot_Wasserfahrzeug And it isn't the source of English boat, but the reverse: the (Middle) English word boat was the source of the German word Boot. – sumelic Aug 14 '18 at 16:48
  • Anyway, here's a link if you have access:: oed.com/view/Entry/… I'm not going to quote the whole definition as it's much too long to fit into a comment, and most of it isn't relevant. – sumelic Aug 14 '18 at 16:55
  • "Boot", (pronounced as Book or Look.)( Not pronounced as Bute). Find "Boot" in this dictionary. (V = feminine, O = Neuter, and M = Masc.) dbnl.org/arch/verc005bekn02_01/pag/verc005bekn02_01.pdf – Sylomun Weah Aug 14 '18 at 18:28
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City is from French "cité" and it is a feminine word. And New York is a city.

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    No relevance whatsoever. – AndyT Aug 13 '18 at 15:33
  • Can you state why? – Sylomun Weah Aug 13 '18 at 15:54
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    The gender of nouns in French has nothing to do with the genderless nouns in English, nor the fact that some objects are referred to as "she" in English. Compare the most common example: a ship or boat, called "she" by English speaking sailors, when both "le bateau" and "le navire" are masculine nouns in French. Besides: answers on this website are expected to have research to back them up; the onus is on you to prove that there is a relationship. – AndyT Aug 13 '18 at 15:58

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