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I've just come across a very strange phrase:

Parliament internationally surrendered HER sovereignty to the primacy of European Community law.

My question has nothing to do with politics! I just want to understand why the parliament is called "she". Is it an old-fashioned form?

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Regular form of expression.

Boats, naval ships, liberty, government, prizes, booty (gold) are commonly referred to as feminine.

Most languages usually 'assign' a masculine and feminine to nouns. Latin languages come to mind very quickly for this.

The origin of this I am not certain but I am sure a quick google search could answer this. Traditional story telling, myths, legends are possibly the most significant reason.

Example: Athena the goddess of strategic warfare. -> Strategy is/can be referred to as feminine.

EDIT: I couldn't find anything specific on the origin of the gender for paliament in particular. Here is an article from Princeton on the subject as a whole.

  • Agree that boats, governments, etc are traditionally referred to as feminine. I doubt a link to mythology is particularly useful for explanations, though. Sure, Athena was goddess of war. But Mars was god of war, so why not make war masculine? Frankly, I think it all comes down to a more fuzzy, intuitive idea: some things just SEEM feminine and some SEEM masculine, to a large enough number of people that the assignments were accepted. Also, tools and machines mostly used by men tended to be feminized because most men want a female companion, not another man. – Jay Nov 13 '14 at 21:23
  • Point taken but I am not claiming all have sourced this way. Thanks for expanding and adding your thoughts though. I'll do a little work and refine my answer. But when we speak of Mars/Ares when speak of brutal war itself (masculine thing to do). We fight wars with strategy (feminine) The goddess Nike - Swift Victory is also feminine. – David Nov 13 '14 at 21:26
  • I haven't done any research on it either. Just chatting, really. – Jay Nov 13 '14 at 21:31
  • surprisingly, in my national language Hindi, there's no neutral gender :P – Maulik V Nov 14 '14 at 5:27
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In many languages, every noun has a gender. Things that do not have any literal gender are assigned a gender that made sense to whoever invented the word.

English does not have gender, at least not as an explicit part of the language, like different endings on a noun for different genders. Nevertheless, English-speakers do sometimes still assign gender to inanimate objects, institutions, etc, for purposes of using pronouns. I think for the most part this has become obsolete. Inanimate objects, etc, are now almost always referred to as "it". Perhaps the last hold-out is boats and ships, which are still fairly often called "she".

Some people call any vehicle -- car, plane, train, etc -- "she". Older documents and some traditionalists will call a nation or a government "she", as here. It's pretty rare these days, I think, but not unheard of.

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