11

I know that a ship is always referred using "she", but what about aircraft? What should we use when we're referring to aircraft? Is it the same for automobile?

5
  • 1
    I Googled "she car" to get this. Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 2:26
  • 3
    Lipis, no. Ships are not always referred to as she. It's traditional for people who work with them but, in general, everyday English, that's rare.
    – Tristan r
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 22:01
  • 2
    It depends. You need to look under the rear luggage bay to know for sure.
    – DA.
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 22:40
  • If you listen to Tracey Curtis-Taylor who is a pilot, you'll hear her telling the journalist that she calls her plane "he". bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07fg1x4 listen to the discussion about the gender of the plane starting @ minute 02:33 at the beginning of the programme.
    – user181072
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 21:49
  • For cars it's been my observation that men tend to choose female names and women choose male names. My SIL called her old pickup "Fred".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 21:52

6 Answers 6

10

The most common way to refer to an airplane is it.

If one were to decide to infer gender onto an aircraft, female would be the obvious choice for airships (eg Zeppelins), and by extension probably the logical one for smaller aircraft like planes.

However, I would advise against doing any such silly thing. Getting rid of gender for inanimate objects is one of the main features of English I like.

For automobiles, there really isn't a standard. The most common usage is again "it". My mom had an odd tendency to name her cars, but they were generally neutral names like: "The Blue Blump". Probably the most popular personified cars in media are Herbie the Love Bug (male), Christine (female), and the Cars cartoon series (both).


Not gonna rewrite this more than a decade later, but it got poked, and on a reread, I realized I do know of some examples for aircraft. The two planes that dropped the first 2 atomic bombs were named "Enola Gay" (female) and "Boxscar" (neuter). The Wright Brothers' first plane was "The Spirit of St. Louis" (neuter). There's a list of B-17 bomber names here. Almost all are female, several are neuter, but I do see one "King Bee".

6
  • I agree! But it's something that men (well, many of them anyway) love to do, unfortunately there's no way to stop them...
    – Irene
    Commented Oct 31, 2011 at 18:19
  • 2
    Funny, it is something that I miss when speaking English. :)
    – nico
    Commented Oct 31, 2011 at 18:20
  • "There's a lady who's sure. All that glitters is gold. And she's buying a stairway to heaven..." ~ Led Zeppelin, "Stairway to Heaven". Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 2:22
  • I'll wait few more days before deciding on which one should be the correct answer :)
    – Lipis
    Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 19:34
  • 1
    Looking at news sources, both general and aviation-specific, "it" is almost always used. Example: CNN: "One of the most noticeable things about the experimental plane, aside from the fact that it’s filled with monitoring equipment, is just how huge it is."
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 14:56
6

Aircraft are usually referred to as "she", just like ships. Automobiles follow the same principle.

5
  • 4
    I think you mean usually referred to as "she" rather than "he". I'm be pretty sure that aircraft are much less likely than ships to be assigned any gender at all. Just by the by, I personally find that plural aircrafts rather odd here - I think I might follow it up with a question! Commented Oct 31, 2011 at 18:42
  • You're right, my "aircrafts" is ungrammatical. Slipped. Sorry!
    – Irene
    Commented Oct 31, 2011 at 18:53
  • I asked anyway, because there's definitely increasing usage where it's not unintentional. Commented Oct 31, 2011 at 19:00
  • FumbleFingers, you made a good point. Vehicles of any kind, do not need to have a gender, in English. Because of that, if a gender is chosen, it doesn't have to be one or the other.
    – Tristan r
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 22:04
  • By whom are they referred to as "she"? All the websites I've looked at from news to discussion forums show "it" is generally used.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 14:56
6

As a pilot, the aircraft is definitely a she. Look after her, keep her in balance and she'll reward you; she'll work with you to get you there smoothly and comfortably and she'll becomes an extension of your hands.

Each aircraft has a personality of her own; it's easy to personify different idiosyncrasies as different personality types. A slight miss on throttle-forward might be an emphasyemic cough, an out-of-balance rudder might be a wooden leg; these things become what you love in an a/c.

5

If an aircraft is given a gender, it is normally female, along the same lines as for ships and for much the same reasons (complex creatures with very fickle attitudes toward their men, that are nonetheless objects of affection).

The anthropomorphism of aircraft is rarer than for ships, but still very common especially in the military, where bombers and even fighter aircraft have traditionally been given a name and "nose art" for good luck (more commonly as simply something for the lonely pilots and ground crew to ogle). The bigger the plane, the more likely it is to be anthropomorphized. Race cars are also anthropomorphized by their drivers from time to time.

2
  • merriam-webster.com/dictionary/engender
    – user13141
    Commented Oct 31, 2011 at 19:49
  • 1
    Right; engender - to cause to exist or develop. We are creating and/or assigning human qualities such as gender where there are none. However, "anthropomorphizing", though more of a mouthful, is also more exact and less ambiguous.
    – KeithS
    Commented Oct 31, 2011 at 19:57
0

Things that contain people are feminine. Ships, cars, aircraft, countries, cities.

Of course "it" is always at least as correct.

2
  • 2
    Interesting concept! +1 for the generalization. But you got to be careful extending it. Under this rule, a house is a "she". Not sure that works. Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 20:33
  • Cyberherbalist, that's a good point. Deciding a gender for something that is not living, is unnecessary in English and just becomes ridiculous and bizarre.
    – Tristan r
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 22:09
-1

As I read the question: 'WHAT IS the gender of an aircraft? What should we use when we're referring to aircraft?...', NOT, '...the question was basically whether one should refer to an aircraft as "she" as we do a ship...'. To continue, I think 'nose art' had a lot to do with it during WWII, where 'airships' often had female artwork (and attendant names) directly under the pilot's side of the fuselage as an 'affectionate' anthropomorphism to remind the crew of females they'd left behind, dreamed of, or had the characteristics of women within a plane's often sensitive controls during take-off, cruise and landing. Having said that, there were also not a few aircraft with male (often chauvinistic, comical or downright dirty) artwork and names (depending on their necessarily rigorous maneuverability). Still, I think it comes back to the finesse of the 'delicate handling' of aircraft. They are sensitive to the touch, respond with only a modicum of manipulation during flight, and with just the right amount of direction, bring her crew and passengers into a comfortable repose whether her '_heels' are lifted-up or placed gently on the ground after an exhilarating trip - alleviating pent-up stress and with a great deal of satisfaction. ~N'est ce pas?

1
  • 2
    Great detail, but the question was basically whether one should refer to an aircraft as "she" as we do a ship, and you haven't quite given that answer! Could you edit to include it?
    – nxx
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 20:03

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