gender-less "she"?

Isotta

Senior Member
English, Hodgepodge
Discussion split from here.

I.C. said:
Of course I could be wrong, but I think there's an old tradition in English of using "she" in a way such that the sex is not determined (there is no way in hell I'm using "gender").
Not in English, though Monique Wittig would be proud.

Z.
 
  • I.C.

    Senior Member
    D
    Isotta said:
    Not in English
    You sure there has never been? An old professor - though not a professor of English -, who was very knowledgable in about everything (as in awe-inspiringly knowledgable, at least in my opinion) told me so and I think I have found examples of this useage in the past.
     

    Isotta

    Senior Member
    English, Hodgepodge
    I.C. said:
    You sure there has never been? An old professor - though not a professor of English - who was very knowledgable in about everything (as in awe-inspiringly knowledgable, at least in my opinion) told me so and I think I have found examples of this useage in the past.
    Do I understand you correctly? Perhaps for ships and formerly storms, but the default pronoun?

    This is what I found on the matter. Interesting about the "singular their."

    I have a feeling we're about to be moved back into the English forum.

    Zot.
     

    I.C.

    Senior Member
    D
    As in: "In this situation she shall go ahead" meaning that a person - regardless of the sex - shall go ahead in such a situation.

    By the way, regardless of the possibility of this never having been in use, I regard this man as superior in knowledge and intellectual prowess to the combined knowledge and prowess of the entire forums altogether - with no offense meant to anyone and including myself here - and will probably stick to his claim unless being proven wrong by fairly hard facts. Accidentally (or rather not) this man also had the most pleasant English I ever had the fortune to listen to. Though it would have sounded very snobbish to many.
     

    Isotta

    Senior Member
    English, Hodgepodge
    I.C. said:
    As in: "In this situation she shall go ahead" meaning that a person - regardless of the sex - shall go ahead in such a situation.
    Is this from a specific source? I only heard things like this when I attended a girls school.

    As for the professor, we need not inquire further into the matter if you prefer not. My roommate is still recovering from the discovery that the "h" of "hours" is not aspirated.

    Z.
     

    I.C.

    Senior Member
    D
    Isotta said:
    Is this from a specific source?
    No, made it up as an example
    we need not inquire further into the matter if you prefer not.
    Doesn't worry me, I don't believe in argument from authority, that's just a logical fallacy.
    But see, while you never knew the guy and hence should not be impressed by me saying that some guy said such a practice once existed, I did know him. It was a particular pleasure for him to use "she" in a way that left us baffled, then interrupt himself to smilingly point out this was an old useage from way before the era of feminism and continue his course of argumentation. As he went on about something more relevant to me, I didn't have time to ask of the origin and I forgot to do so in later time. (But I will not put the name of anyone who hasn't given me permission to on the internet.)
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Guy makes a new gun cabinet out of knotty pine, with a wrought-iron grill front instead of wood or glass-- you can see the guns, you just can't get at em. It's got trim that shows off all sorts of joinery skills, and the kind of finish a more erudite man might put on fine book bindings.

    He shows it off to his friend.
    The friend nodds appreciatively. "She's a beaut."

    "I heard you had a pretty good run last night. Got any jars filled?"
    "This PM maybe-- she's still abrewin."

    Two off the top of my head, so I wouldn't be surprised if other examples abound. And don't tell me these are southrenisms-- I live so far north of the line I'm practically in Alberta.
    .
     

    Eugens

    Senior Member
    Argentina Spanish
    Very interesting!
    If I have understood, it seems that the genderless "she" could be used to refer to objects and abstract concepts (I'm not sure what PM means in your example, ffb). But can it be used to refer to a person or an animal whose sex is unknown? (I know I.C. says it can, what do the others think?)
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Ffb's "she" for inanimate things is very regularly used here - but is also very definitely intended to convey a sense of femaleness. Fear prevents me from explaining why men might choose to presume that complex, expensive and unpredictable pieces of engineering are female.

    I had a dig around for genderless she's and tripped over all kinds of strange bits of Ancient Norse and Northumbrian and an alphabet soup of initials for ancient European cultures and languages. There could well be something buried inside the OED - possibly under ancient demonstrative pronoun forms of "the". Although I couldn't find anything clear enough to quote, there is enough to suggest that there is more digging to be done.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Eugens said:
    (I'm not sure what PM means in your example, ffb). But can it be used to refer to a person or an animal whose sex is unknown?
    PM means afternoon, kind of a fanciful way of putting it.

    "I limited out in the first half hour cause I caught a brownie* over 14 inches."
    "I'da throwed her back, just to have something to do all morning."
    "Well I don't think you would-- when I say over 14 inches, I mean way over." (Here there'd be an expansive gesture of dubious credibility).
    "Still, you're done fishing and it ain't even light out. You din't bring yer shockgun widjadidja?"
    "Naw, we went down to the slow water and snorkeled around, speargunning trash fish."

    * A brownie is a brown trout, limit one, and it has to be over 14 inches but under 28. Or "she" does.
    .
     

    I.C.

    Senior Member
    D
    panjandrum said:
    Ancient Norse and Northumbrian and an alphabet soup of initials for ancient European cultures and languages. There could well be something buried inside the OED - possibly under ancient demonstrative pronoun forms of "the".
    This roughly is the direction I was thinking of myself. Seriously, the guy who mentioned the "she"-thing to me was very well read, with a taste for strange, near-forgotten stuff. An education to make sense of it, too, I would think.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    panjandrum said:
    There could well be something buried inside the OED - possibly under ancient demonstrative pronoun forms of "the".
    Oh, well in that case-- the Old English word for "the" is se. And the word for "he" is sé. That simplifies matters, if you want to see this issue as a vestigial buried-memory thing.

    Rather than look for OE words in the etymology blurb of each OED entry, why not check out this excellent OE reference source?
    .
     

    Isotta

    Senior Member
    English, Hodgepodge
    I.C. said:
    This roughly is the direction I was thinking of myself. Seriously, the guy who mentioned the "she"-thing to me was very well read, with a taste for strange, near-forgotten stuff. An education to make sense of it, too, I would think.
    Are you sure you weren't being had? Was he a cheeky sort of distinguished fellow?

    ffb--I couldn't find any "she" in the link you posted, even though I did some good skimming in the grammar section. Though I did find news articles from two years ago translated into Old English.

    Z.
     

    Tamlane

    Member
    English, Canada
    foxfirebrand said:
    Guy makes a new gun cabinet out of knotty pine, with a wrought-iron grill front instead of wood or glass-- you can see the guns, you just can't get at em. It's got trim that shows off all sorts of joinery skills, and the kind of finish a more erudite man might put on fine book bindings.

    He shows it off to his friend.
    The friend nodds appreciatively. "She's a beaut."

    "I heard you had a pretty good run last night. Got any jars filled?"
    "This PM maybe-- she's still abrewin."

    Two off the top of my head, so I wouldn't be surprised if other examples abound. And don't tell me these are southrenisms-- I live so far north of the line I'm practically in Alberta.
    .
    I think that using 'she' to refer to inanimate objects is just a tradition in English. It certainly hasn't been around for a very long time linguistically speaking. I don't think it applies in any actual sense to the syntax of English. You don't have to refer to a boat as 'she' you just do. It would be easy to refer to it as 'he'. In French, or other languages, gender is important syntactically and some objects must be refered to as either female or male.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Isotta said:
    ffb--I couldn't find any "she" in the link you posted, even though I did some good skimming in the grammar section.
    Well, the grammar section is still under construction, and the "pronouns" page isn't up yet.

    I also see the English-OE part of the dictionary is lacking-- I've only ever used the OE-English side, which is exhaustive and impressive. So I guess my "excellent" source is just the ticket if you have an OE text in front of you and don't need a lot of help with the grammar.

    "She" is under séo, which I guess doesn't help if you don't already know the OE word. He she it = Sé séo þæt. The initial "s" was probably not sibilant, but more like a half-voiced /zh/ sound, approaching a French /j/. Obviously it eventually migrated into an eth or half-voiced /th/ sound, so the tonguetip might've been involved. I suspect the lower lip may have been pulled back against the lower teeth, even slightly up over them-- put too much breath into a consonant like that, and you can get a fierce dog-calling whistle, at least some people can do it.

    I obviously love to speculate endlessly about shifts in the linguistic embouchure-- doesn't it make sense that some of the consonants are modified whistles? So "she" came from a whistle-- what more elegant explanation could you want?

    Anyway, If you back off a voiced lisp and into more of a /zh/ thing, you're probably in the right territory-- the truth not really knowable in those dark days before recorded sound.
    .
     

    Isotta

    Senior Member
    English, Hodgepodge
    And then there are languages that are whistles. Or there is one of them anyway.

    Do you have any notion how we could find out? I've been sifting through "gender-neutral pronouns" and the like, and, while interesting, I haven't found anything.

    Z.

    Edit: I just noticed that the comment that spurred this whole thing is in the other thread (you can access it from the first post of this one). Thus we are trying to determine if it was ever normal in English to use "she" as the "singular their" when the gender is not specified.
     

    I.C.

    Senior Member
    D
    foxfirebrand said:
    Oh, well in that case-- the Old English word for "the" is se. And the word for "he" is sé. That simplifies matters, if you want to see this issue as a vestigial buried-memory thing.

    Rather than look for OE words in the etymology blurb of each OED entry, why not check out this excellent OE reference source?
    .
    Thanks. :D
    Isotta said:
    Are you sure you weren't being had?
    Can't be dead sure, but don't think so.
    Was he a cheeky sort of distinguished fellow?
    Cheeky he was.
    couldn't find any "she" in the link
    "Sé" can be found under "S".
     

    wacky

    New Member
    German, Germany
    When we were reading those economic books for university, I noticed in Hal Varian's Microeconomics, that any economic player was referred to as 'she'. Now, I don't remember, if that was just something Mr. Varian liked, or if that might be a tradition, but it would surely back your thesis of referring to people, whose gender isn't defined, with 'she'. I unfortunately don't have it here right now to quote it.
    On the other hand, I checked the few books I have here in my study abroad apartment and there they use "he or she" instead of specifying one gender.

    Regards,
    wacky
     

    I.C.

    Senior Member
    D
    wacky said:
    When we were reading those economic books for university, I noticed in Hal Varian's Microeconomics, that any economic player was referred to as 'she'.
    That's the kind of example I think I might have come across on my own, maybe just once, maybe occasionally, but my memory of it is very sketchy. You just reminded me of this as a possible source. The few times that I did look into such textbooks (and I wouldn't know which that were), I was mostly searching for something specific.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    wacky said:
    When we were reading those economic books for university, I noticed in Hal Varian's Microeconomics, that any economic player was referred to as 'she'. Now, I don't remember, if that was just something Mr. Varian liked, or if that might be a tradition, but it would surely back your thesis of referring to people, whose gender isn't defined, with 'she'. I unfortunately don't have it here right now to quote it.
    How long ago was the book written? Perhaps the author did it simply out of feminism, or as a personal quirk.
     

    I.C.

    Senior Member
    D
    I read your reply, Isotta, I certainly didn't mind (and why would I).
    But don't you think, if I was leading you on, wouldn't I have been subtle enough and also tactically versed enough to not reply to wacky's post as I did? I tend to think so.
     

    Jana337

    Senior Member
    čeština
    Outsider said:
    How long ago was the book written? Perhaps the author did it simply out of feminism, or as a personal quirk.
    I have read quite a few economics textbooks. To illustrate the concepts, authors often use an unidentified consumer to whom they refer using either "he" or "she". Skimming Harian's undergrad book (its last edition is recent, widely used at colleges), I have to agree - he indeed seems to use "she" ONLY. But he is not notorious for being a feminist. :)

    Update: In the graduate textbook by the same author, all consumers I detected are male. :rolleyes:

    Jana
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    Tamlane said:
    I think that using 'she' to refer to inanimate objects is just a tradition in English. It certainly hasn't been around for a very long time linguistically speaking. I don't think it applies in any actual sense to the syntax of English. You don't have to refer to a boat as 'she' you just do. It would be easy to refer to it as 'he'. In French, or other languages, gender is important syntactically and some objects must be refered to as either female or male.
    Prior to the eighth decade or so of the twentieth century it was usual for countries to be referred to be referred to as 'she'.
    With the rise of feminist polemic, there has been a tendency to neutralise, but it is still a very common usage.

    China will defend her borders.

    Sometimes 'mother' is added to countries, so naturally it's 'she"
    Mother Russia mourns for her sons.

    There's also a long standing tradition to call boats 'she'.
    She foundered in a storm.
    God bless her and all who sail in her

    I have never seen "she" used as a generic both-sexes pronoun.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Jana337 said:
    I have read quite a few economics textbooks. To illustrate the concepts, authors often use an unidentified consumer to whom they refer using either "he" or "she". Skimming Harian's undergrad book (its last edition is recent, widely used at colleges), I have to agree - he indeed seems to use "she" ONLY. But he is not notorious for being a feminist. :)
    Maybe he's hinting that women consume more than men. ;)
     

    Isotta

    Senior Member
    English, Hodgepodge
    I just came across an article from The French Review called "Voltaire's Zadig and the Allegory of (Mis)reading" by Carol Sherman that begins, "By the time even the casual reader arrives at the end of Zadig, she has found little coherence..." She explains in a footnote that "he" refers to the narrator and "she" refers to the reader, since Voltaire's "ideal reader is often female."

    Surprised me at first, but not that she explained it in a note--otherwise it would appear odd.

    Z.
     
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