Friday, July 1, 2011

Our Poor Sexless Language

Thought for the day:  Sign at the electric company -- We would be delighted if you send in your payment. However, if you don't, you will be.

I think we all agree by now that English is a weirdo language. But, by golly,  at least we don't have to worry about what gender our nouns are. A noun is a noun is a noun, and if we put the in front of it, we're pretty much good to go. One word fits all.

Let's face it. Ours is a sexless ... or unisex ... language.

Not so other languages. In Spanish, masculine nouns are preceded by el, and feminine nouns by la, but if any reasoning whatsoever went into the assignations of gender, it isn't readily apparent to me. I mean, in Spanish, dress is masculine ...  and necktie is feminine. Go figure.

Ditto French. They also use la to denote feminine, but do a switcheroo on the Spanish  el to use le for masculine. And as Cro, who actually lives in SW France, mentioned in his comments the other day,  the French word for beard is feminine, while the word for handbag is masculine. Again, go figure.

Know what's worse? The German language isn't satisfied to merely designate two genders. Oh no, they have to throw in a neuter as well. A precedent of der denotes masculine, die denotes feminine, and das means neuter. And to stir things up a bit, they sometimes have different words ...  of different genders ...  for the same object.

Other languages assign gender to words, too, but I believe I've already made my point. So, are you English speakers feeling linguistically sex-deprived now? Wouldn't it be fun if we could intuitively assign gender to our nouns, based on the characteristics of the objects they describe?

Reminds me of a joke I heard a few years ago. A high school Spanish teacher was teaching her class about noun gender, when one of her students asked about the gender of the word computer. So, just for fun, she split the class into two groups, one all male and the other female, and told them to decide the issue based upon the characteristics of computers. Their reasoning follows.

What do you think? Male or female? 
Why Computers are Male (according to the girls)

  1. They have a lot of data, but are still clueless.
  2. They're supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time, they are the problem.
  3. They look attractive until you take them home.
  4. Big power surges knock them out for the night.
  5. In order to get their attention, you have to turn them on.
Why Computers are Female (according to the boys)
  1. No one but their creator understands their internal logic.
  2. Even the smallest mistakes are committed to memory.
  3. The native language used to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to anyone else.
  4. The message "bad command or file name" is about as informative as, "If you don't know what's wrong, I'm not going to tell you."
  5. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.
So, whatcha think? Are computers male or female?

Before we go on to this week's weirdest news stories, one final word on our strange language. Good friend Bill sent me the link to a great clip, and I think you'll enjoy it, too. It shows Gallagher talking about the English language, in a piece called "Messing With Your Mind."

OK, here we go. It's time for (ta DA!) the

Weirdest News Stories of the Week

***  It isn't unusual for couples to adopt, and it isn't unusual for parents to let their offspring share their marital bed, either. But the "baby" French couple Pierre and Elianne Thivillon adopted thirteen years ago, who still shares their bed each night ... is a gorilla. Both parents are zookeepers with experience working with gorillas, so when baby Digit's mother wouldn't care for him, it was only natural that they'd consider taking him home. But their adopted baby now weighs 265 pounds. (I hope they have a king-sized bed!)

***  It's terribly annoying when a neighbor repeatedly allows his pooch to use your yard as as its own personal potty, isn't it? It's annoying to a New Hampshire apartment complex owner, too. The plentiful piles of poo were ruining the aesthetics of her lovely complex, doggone it, so she decided to do something about it. Residents have until today to submit pet (ahem) samples, so she can use them to set up a doggie DNA file. That's right. From now on, when an unpleasant mound of manure is found, she's gonna test the dog doo DNA to reveal the inconsiderate culprit. She doesn't yet know what she's gonna do once the doo is identified. Perhaps a fine, she says. (How about lighting a paper bag of "evidence" outside the offender's door?)

No! Not THAT kind of hot dog!

THIS kind of hot dog!

***  For the first time ever, there will be a separate ladies only competition at this year's July 4 Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, New York. While women have competed against men in the past, and 105-pound Sonya Thomas even managed to out-eat 230-pound Joey Chestnut, women will undoubtedly have a better shot at winning their own separate $10,000 prize by going stomach to stomach with other gluttons of the fairer sex. Another female competitor, Juliet Lee, who has also occasionally bested male eaters in the past, hopes to beat her personal best of thirty-four dogs in this year's competition.

***  A 24-year-old man was arrested in Florida for smoking a marijuana bong. No big deal, you say? He was caught in the act while driving a van filled with precious cargo. With him were five children, ranging in age from one to six years old. Yeah, I know driving a bunch of kids around can be stressful out the wazoo, but did this dude even give aromatherapy a chance?

***  No, that horse in the picture isn't using the ground to scratch himself. I'm pretty sure he's laughing himself silly. And that's because he heard about what's going down in Wellington, New Zealand. Green Man Pub is offering a new drink to its clients, and word has it, men and women alike have been throwing 'em back and living to tell the tale. The drink? Horse semen shots. I kid you not. Each chilled shot contains approximately 300 million sperm, (I trust no one's actually counted the little boogers) and is tinged with a slight apple flavoring. The owner says the sticky drink isn't much of a sipper, so it's best to gulp it down in one big swallow. As for what these people hope to gain from drinking this, I haven't a clue, but it does give a whole new meaning when you hear someone in that bar say they're gonna "see a man about a horse."

Sorry to leave y'all with a bad taste in your mouth. (Think ice cream.) Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other. And have a real bang up fourth of July.


  1. Where do you get this stuff?

  2. Yes, I know the English language is difficult to learn for a multiple of reasons. However, as you said, our native tongue does not allow our words to be sexed up. (The Puritans should hear us now.)

    I took, French, Spanish, and Latin in school and that feminine/masculine thing drove me nuts. I took 3 years of French and Latin but when I moved to a different state and school, the forth year of these languages was not offered. Spanish and German were my options so I took one year of Spanish, The language was easy for me to learn because of my background. However, I had some problem mixing up my French pronouns with the Spanish version. My pronunciation had something to be desired also, as the Spanish I spoke came out with a French/Bronx accent.

    The joke about feminine/masculine attributes of computers was spot on. As much as we love them, they drive us up the wall.

  3. Ha, ha! Love the gender debate over the computers! Very funny -- and oh, so true(especially the arguments for it being male). I wonder HOW the gender designations for those languages came about -- and does anyone know if they are consistent among languages? That is, if dress is male in Spanish, is it also male in French and German?

  4. Hi, Delores. I read a LOT of online newspapers!

    Hi, Starting Over. I took five years of French, and used to be pretty fluent, but haven't had much cause to use it in years. With the huge Hispanic community in our area, I really wish I'd taken Spanish instead. (although, on the plus side, I can still sing a really cool French drinking song!)

  5. Hi, Dianne. No, just to make it a little more confusing, the gender assignations aren't even the same from language to language. For example, sun is masculine in Spanish and feminine in German, but moon is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish. No rhyme nor reason.

  6. As a finale to your linguistics campaign; may I offer the following.

    The landlord of 'The Coach and Horses' pub' was having a new sign painted, but he wasn't happy.

    He said to the painter..."There's too much space between coach and and, and and and horses"

    FIVE 'ands' in a row, and perfectly correct!

  7. Hi, Cro. Perfect! Thank you, dear sir. The more I look at the languages of the world, the more I marvel that we ever learned to communicate with one another in the first place. Take care.

  8. Thanks for the laugh, I needed one today :-)

    Have a great 4th of July


  9. You do find the most amazing stuff! The hot dog one really got me. I can't eat even one anymore, knowing what's in them and how bad they for us. I'll also never forget the horse picture--laughing (maybe) at all the nonsense in the world.
    What a fun post! I smiled all the way through it. And I seriously hope you have a great holiday weekend.
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

  10. Hi, Ron. Glad to oblige. A laugh-a-day beats a vitamin any old time.

    Hi, Ann. Good to hear from you again. You've been one busy lady! Yeah, I'm really pushing it to to eat one hot dog, too, but I love 'em. We get the all-beef crunchy-skinned ones and call them Polish tube steaks. Glad to make you smile, dear lady, and I hope you have a wonderful Holiday, as well.

  11. Hi Susan,
    I loved the computer gender joke. Especially laughed at the last one for female on commitment, buying accessories.

    Weird news, you must have a secret stash of it. That horse semen one "takes the cake." Maybe they will discover it will cure some disease or be another pregnancy test. The hot dog one makes me a little queezy just thinking about anyone eating that many hot dogs. I haven't eaten one in 25 years. Do they have to eat the bun, too? All that bread will turn to one hard wall paper paste lump. Fun post, Susan
    Have a special Holiday Weekend

  12. I love the gorilla story. Makes me think of Monster Child. Not that she's 265 but she does have a tendency to hog the bed.

    Horse semen -- what will they think of next?

    Happy 4th of July! Stay safe.

  13. Hi, Manzie. Glad you liked the computer bit, and no I don't really have a "stash" of weird stories. I just research a lot of newspapers every week to find them. And yeah, those hot dog piggies have to eat the buns, too. How in the world that gal stays at 105 pounds, I have no idea. Must not eat for the rest of the week.

    Hi, Anne. I thought about you when I wrote the gorilla story. Um, not that you remind me of a gorilla, but you DID mention on your blog recently about your daughter sharing your bed. And, no telling what they'll think of next. You've gotta wonder how people ever came to eat or (gulp) drink some of the strange things they do. Take care. And a happy 4th to you, too.