1

In trucker forums, I can see drivers referring to their trucks by pronoun “she”. Similarly a site about an older airplane writes about “restoring her”.

I would expect using “it” for all things (which are not persons).

What is the logic here behind using “she” instead of “it”?
In what other cases (not referring to people) is this applied?
Would using “it” sound unnatural in these contexts?

Note: there is already a similar question if a car should be “he” or “she”, but this one is sligthly different.

2

There is no grammatical reason for it; it is simply traditional for certain classes of nouns, including

to be treated as female, especially in literary usage.

Some tie this to personification: Western national personifications are overwhelmingly female, for example, as is Mother Nature herself. I think that is reductive, however. England is traditionally personified as John Bull, a male, yet the usage was England and her allies. The USS Andrew Jackson was invariably a she, even if her namesake was a robust adherent of traditional masculine norms. Furthermore, a ship or airplane or city may be called she, but the relative pronoun for them will remain which, not who. Anglophones are not imagining Marianne when speaking of France in her multiplicities.

The most common explanation is that institutions and inanimate objects came to be referred to as she when perceived as nurturing or protective, like a mother; they acquired a social gender even if they do not have, and could not have, a biologically-based one. It is not related to grammatical gender, leastways what grammatical gender the Latin navis has. English does not have a grammatical gender system any more, and back when it did, schip was grammatically neuter.

The use of feminine pronouns with those nouns is increasingly limited, because some see it as patronizing and otherwise outdated. Given current sensitivities, I'm certain an essay like "Why We Call a Ship a She" would never have been published in a respectable magazine, and coming from a well-respected historian and retired admiral, it would have provoked no small controversy if it had. Even the Scottish Maritime Museum has, to some controversy, replaced she and her with it.

  • Thank you for pointing also to special grammatical treatment of this case using which not who. – miroxlav Jun 28 at 21:08
1

Calling a ship "she" is common (perhaps because it caries the crew like a mother?). Countries are often accorded sexuality, e.g. "fatherland" (Deutsche Vaterland) or "motherland" (Russia's Rodina). Speaking of a thing as if it were a living being is, likely, a term of affection.

However, the idioms of a particular group don't necessarily reflect the norm. Perhaps a trucker has a particular attachment to his vehicle, but to most others, a truck's an "it".

  • 1
    This may be a regional thing (I am from the US) but in casual speech I have often heard men (esp. on TV) refer to their car, motorcycle, boat, sometimes even substantial power tools as "she". It definitely has a limited usage, but I would not say that it is exclusive to truckers. – katatahito Jun 28 at 2:22
  • 1
    @katatahito, Thanks, I stand corrected. As you state, though, it is idiomatic, restricted to a subset of English speakers, and perhaps exaggerated in media fiction. – DrMoishe Pippik Jun 28 at 3:14
  • +1 after the edits – katatahito Jun 28 at 3:25
  • The railway locomotive called Flying Scotsman is most definitely a lady, as any British railway enthusiast will tell you. – Michael Harvey Jun 28 at 6:28
  • And there's The City of New Orleans, that Steve Goodman calls "your native son". youtube.com/watch?v=AJMVj04lfyo Perhaps it's a tougher, American frontiersman ;-) oops, but the Wabash Cannonball is very feminine. youtube.com/watch?v=aZiQ89_s67Q – DrMoishe Pippik Jun 28 at 6:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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