I have a question for British Dopers: An Englishwoman here in Canada once pointed to a bitch on the street with teats as pendulous as the she-wolf who fed Romulus and Remus, and referred to the animal as “he”.
When I expressed surprise, she told me that “all dogs are ‘he’ and all cats are ‘she’”.
I did not think much about it until last night, watching a British program on TV in which a character referred to a dog named “Harriett” as “he”.
I assume this is a British thing?
Do you really shooo an over-sexed Tom cat away from your yard with the angry declaration that “someone should have her balls taken off?” Frankly, I would have trouble keeping a straight face if I said that.
The lady who said it was more like 45 at the time, quite British and college-educated. And I am certain I heard the TV character “Lionel Hardcastle” in “As Time Goes By” refer to a dog named “Harriett” as “he” and “him”, just last night.
I have just founb this site , which is apparently designed to teach English to French persons, which says that in colloquial English “when it is not felt necesssary to indicate the sex, dogs and horses are generally masculine and cats feminine. . . . .”
So I guess this is not a formal rule, just a guideline. You do not have to ask your vet to castrate “her” or tell people that “he” had puppies.
I’d expect to ask, or be asked, of the gender of a dog, in the same way as you might do when meeting somebody with a young baby.
And I’d regard that advice to French-speakers as overly fussy. I can’t imagine anybody objecting to “You can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink”, and similarly I’d refer to dogs and cats in the neuter.
Well, I’m not British, but when I’m not paying attention to what I’m saying(just hush ) my default is “she” for dogs, and “he” for cats. Nothing to do with class or language, it’s simply that the dogs of my childhood were all female, and the cats were almost all male. Maybe your friend was just simply not thinking about what she was saying?
I’ve never, ever heard of this. But I have a very good friend that always refers to our female dog as “he.” I’d just assumed that it always slipped his mind that she was a bitch, even when I answer such as, “well, she does…” Now I wonder if there’s something else going on that I was unaware of.
I have a once-removed cousin (not removed far enough), in her '50s and not at all British, who really does believe that all dogs are male and all cats are female. She claims that dogs inseminate cats, who have mixed litters of puppies and kittens. This woman has had dogs or cats her entire life; all the dogs have had male names, and the cats have had female names. She’s actually been shown the genitals of female dogs and male cats, but nothing will shake her belief.
All I know of the King’s English I learned from watching Brit-coms and I do seem to remember a preponderance for calling cats ‘she’ at least. The miniseries Shackleton comes to mind. All along the cook called his cat she, until they had kill it and he said, “It’s a he, and I’ll do it me self”.
That rather unpleasant scene not withstanding, a great show btw…