Silver gender

Anent QUESTIONS WE’RE STILL THINKING ABOUT, my wife has a report.

When I was a child, I read (probably in Jack and Jill magazine) a poem whose purpose was to teach children how to properly set a table. It did this by suggesting you think of the silverware as a family - the fork was Mommy, the knife was Daddy, and the spoon was their little boy. (I assume Daddy was the knife because the knife is the tallest.) All I remember of the poem is the last line: “And the Daddy holds the little boy’s hand.”

Wife? Or MOTHER?!?!? :wink:

Would that make the salad fork the daughter? But forks stab your food, an inherently violent, masculine act. Why then would forks be feminine?

The question about silverware as a family struck me, too. In my case it’s because I’ve heard that knife, fork, and spoon are three different genders in German. But I forget which was which. I guess the kid would be whichever piece is neuter.

das Messer - knife (neuter)
*der Löffel *- spoon (masculine)
die Gabel - fork (feminine)

As to any explanation of how grammatical gender is assigned to inanimate objects - forget it. It’s not even obliquely Freudian, it’s not deterministic or rational except in a few scattered cases. There may once have been a reason, but it’s so distant in the past that there is essentially no hope of discovering it. That’s just How It Is.

As to Thunder, Lightning and Rain: Thunder and Lightning are both masculine so either the Thunder is the voice of the lightning (more likely) or el nino of the lightning (less likely). The Rain as feminine is easy, rain nourishes the earth and gives life so there is an obvious maternal connections.

Of course the Rain and the Lightning are married. When either are in the sky alone their emotions range from calm and peacefull to animated and excited but when they are together they fight, argue and carry on like an old married couple.

Note: I knew the answer in spanish but I ran them through babelfish in other languages to cross reference. Rain-f, Thunder-m, Lightning-m applies to most romantic languages but french seems to have Rain-f, Thunder-m, Lightning-f. I don’t know if this is the case normally or if it is a problem with the babelfish.

For every explanation you can give about why rain should be feminine, I can give an equal rationale for it being masculine or neuter. For any given word, it’s a roughly equal chance that that the grammatical gender does or doesn’t have any relation to your concept of its gender. And they’re different from language to language… in German, lightning and thunder are both masculine, rain is neuter.

My apologies if you were just saying that this is your own personal trick to remembering the gender. I once used such tricks, but I quickly discovered that they worked against me because the grammatical genders are often strongly counterintuitive - for example, in German, uterus is masculine :confused:

In German, all the genders are reversed!

In Russia, gender reverses you!

I was postulating about the connection between rain and feminine nurture, it was just a guess. Most of the gender rules I deal with are spanish and the closest I have come to an easy way to remember is: If it is phallic it’s masculine, if it is a recepticle it’s feminine, but there are so many exceptions that even this is way off. Still, it gets me closer than trying to memorize them while learning/speaking a second language on the fly.

Ask Lizzie Borden.

When I was a tot and Mom dragged me to some “grownup” restaurant where reading or drawing at table was forbidden, I used to make the salt & pepper and the cutlery into “people” and act out little scenarios. The seasonings made a nice couple, but the silverware always became a soap opera: knife = bad guy, fork = good guy, spoon = girl. Teaspoons and salad forks were second-string characters.


First, she used an axe, which is not a normal item of tableware. However, it might be in Fall River, MA, which also gave us Emeril “BAM!” Lagasse.

Second, as Ms Borden was, er, um, one of THOSE :eek: women, the regular definitions of masculine and feminine might be thought of as not applying to her.

ducking and running before John Corrado starts after me.

Easy, there. First, Lizzie Borden was never convicted of a crime; we’ll probably never know what happened. Unless you have evidence that nobody else has presented in the past 115 years, you’re making an accusation without proof.

Second, if you’re implying that Borden was a lesbian, again, you’d want to offer some solid evidence of that, which as far as I know, nobody else has done.

(I know it’s just a silly thread about the imaginary genders of inanimate objects, but we all know how the series of tubes we call the Internet tends to disseminate little historical “facts” based on nothing but supposition. In opposition to this practice stands the SDMB and damn few other sites.)

And I’d have to say the spoon and the knife are mother and father, respectively, with the fork being the child – the fork is much younger historically, and combines aspects of both parents.

In German you say “Fatherland,” but in most other languages (that I’m familiar with) it’s “Motherland.” Same goes for verhicles - in America, people refer to their cars and boats in the feminine, but in German it’s the masculine.

I wonder what that says about the people who crafted the language and/or the people who use the language. Are there other languages who’s gender usage run opposite other language’s usages?

As far as using Babelfish (and and other online translation services), I find that they can be useful for helping me remember a particular word, but aren’t real good at phrasing in general. If I ask it to give me a Spanish translation of an English phrase and I repeat it word-for-word to a native Spanish speaker, they will often laugh. My pronunciation is great, but the word order given by the site is wrong, or the translation for nouns or verbs are the incorrect context, and the sentence sounds ridiculous.

Also, how do Latin and Greek treat gender usage for the nouns under discussion by this thread (knife, spoon, fork, thunder, lightning, rain)?

Which is why I left John Corrado’s Staff Report in my ducking and running wake.

My personal take is that Lizzie done it (mutilation murders like that are not triggered by being told to wash the windows when your tummy is upset) and that her close friendship with Nance O’ Neill could easily have been just that, but if we cannot libel the dead who can we?

In Portuguese:

  • Fork is masculine, hence the dad;
  • Knife is feminine, naturally the mom;
  • Spoon is feminine, so the daughter. Besides, girls are the ones who most like to spoon with their hubbies right?

Lightning and Thunder are both males.

And girls are neuter (das Mädchen), but turnips are feminine (die Rübe)… shades of long ago high-school German lessons come back to haunt…

It’s worth noting that “gender”, as used in grammar, just means “category”. It so happens that in many Indo-European languages, the genders correlate with sexes, but a language can also have genders of “active” and “passive” (in which case a car or a river would be “active”, but a rock or a lake would be “passive”), or “tall” and “short”, or any other sort of classification of nouns.

When I was a kid I always saw it as a love triangle… the knife and fork were male, the spoon was female… and the fork should have won the spoon’s affections (their shapes are more similar), but she was paired with the knife. This was the story I made up when I was setting the table. I always felt sorry for the fork all forlorn by itself. (We were not fancy and just used one fork per setting… if I had been setting out two forks together, who knows, I might have come up with a gay narrative…)

In practical terms, this means if you’re invited over to dinner at Cecils, bring a full set of cutlery (& salt & pepper). Chances are pretty good you’ll sit down to a place setting consisting of two forks (no knife) or any other possible combination of who knows what.

Men and women are as different as salt and pepper; each offers something that the other simply can’t provide.