We always refer to ships as being feminine, and we used to do the same with hurricanes. And I’ve heard some people do the same with their cars. Are there any other things we give a gender to in English?
(I’m not including silly people who consider all dogs masculine and all cats feminine.)
A lot of gizmos that are expensive or extensively customizable tend to fall under female (I’ve only rarely heard masculine), everything from computers to tricked out sound systems can be referred to as she. Granted, of course, they’ll often still be referred to as “it” a lot of times, but if they’re bragging or acting proud of it people use “she” a lot.
Actually, this is kind of the opposite. We apply gender to almost all human relations (e.g. Mother, father, grandpa, grandma, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, son, daughter, nephew, niece…) but no gender differentiation for cousins. Weird.
Living in South-west England (Bristol) I’ve noticed a widespread linguistic quirk; inanimate objects are referred to by male pronouns. So if I were to ask where a frying pan should be put for instance, I might get the response “put him in the cupboard there” or " 'e [he] goes in there". I haven’t heard this anywhere else, but to me it adds an oddly magical quality to mundane conversations.
This is something that I never noticed before I began learning Danish. In Danish, kusine is a female cousin while fætter is a cousin. So if you are speaking English to a Dane and use the word cousin, they will frequently assume that you must mean a female relation, which may or not be correct.
there used to be a lot of words that are now not politically correct:
waiter/waitress (replaced by the gender-neutral “Server”)
steward/stewardess ( " " " " " flight attendant")
aviator/aviatrix (i.e. Emilia Earhart)
actor/actress (hmm…I guess these are still in use)
This isn’t the same as grammatical gender. Vehicles are often referred to as she, I suspect, as a way of anthropomorphising it, perhaps a throwback to when women were considered possessions “Isn’t she a beauty!”. It’s not the same as languages that make words feminine or masculine or neutral. In French for example, they’re not giving tables, chairs and knives and forks masculine or feminine qualities, they’re not considering them male or female.
Giving female names to hurricanes too, isn’t grammatical gender. It’s just a naming system.
The technical term, by the way, for a male or female identity imposed upon an inanimate object that ordinarily would be considered neuter by a language’s standard grammatical rules is attributive gender.