Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style/Archive (ships as "she")

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Ships as "she"

I find it mildly offensive to refer to ships as "she" rather than "it." As one example (of many) see USS John S. McCain (DD-928). Does Wikipedia have a policy on this? moink 21:38, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)

As an ex-sailor, I find it mildly offensive that this is found mildly offensive. PC overkill, at its worst.
The tradition goes way back in history. Other non-living objects are personified, countries are usually "he" or "she" ("Fatherland, Mother Country"). Objects of nature and religion are often assigned gender: Venus (love) is female, Zeus is male, "Mother Nature." In languages that have gender (most) lots of items are so identiified. I recall when Japan had to decide on how the country name would be transliterated into roman characters on stamps, they had to choose between Nippon (male) or Nihon (female). What is it you find particualrly (if mildly) offensive about referring to ships as "she"? Cecropia 21:51, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)
That is Nippon (masculine) or Nihon (feminine): Grammatical genderSex. Jor 21:56, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)
I understand the tradition. I'm not objecting to the poetry of much of language... though I am objecting to it being included in the Wikipedia. That is, it would be fine to call Venus she, but not love. Germany should not be referred to as he, though "The Fatherland" should be mentioned in the article. My objection has to do with the association between women and objects, particularly objects used mainly by men. Sailors have traditionally been all male, but now there are some female sailors as well. I'm having a hard time explaining myself... I'll try to get back to you when I can think more clearly. moink 21:59, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)
Actually, Germany had a sex change after losing World War II: Die Bundesrepuplik Deutschland is feminine. Mkweise 23:13, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)
That's because it is "Die Republik" (feminine), but was "Das Reich" (neuter). Neuter words are often treated as masculine when personified. Jor 23:58, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)
At the time of the ancient mariners even as far back as 500 BC, most were 'married to the sea' due to thier love of the ocean. The ships were their liveihood, their home and their love. As a compliment to the woman they loved they named their sailing vessels after them, telling them that it would remind them of the ones they left behind for the months and sometimes years they have would be gone. This caught on. The 'she' was also given for things of great beauty found in the sea.. ie "Thar she blows!" depicting the massive water spout seen by whaling ships of old which almost all had female names. Even when ships stopped being given feminine names they were still referred to as 'she', but basically this analogy was due to a captain's love for his ship. "Shes a fine ship, Captain" etc... Matt Stan 22:15, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)
That's my point exactly. Ships are female in order to be the counterpoint of the male sailors. I'm not saying that we should excise it from all creative works, or that we should stop sailors from saying it. But it has no place in an NPOV encyclopedia.
No, ships are feminine, period. To force a neuter gender on them is just incorrect.

Jor 22:47, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)

Ships should be referred to by the same terminology assigned to all other objects in our language. Calling ships "she" is, at best, ancient, outdated, and colloquial usage. At worst, it promotes objects to women and demotes women to objects. No object is referred to by "he" in our language, and no other object is referred to by "she" either. It's not encyclopedic, and it's incredibly annoying. (talk) 06:45, 5 September 2011 (UTC)
Using 'she' is simply how the English language works with ships. This is just the way it is. There is no female repression involved. In fact, forcibly changing the standard 'she' to the awkward 'it' in order to amend this apparent linguistic injustice is imposing and therefore not NPOV. (talk) 10:25, 23 May 2011 (UTC)
This is simply standard English, no more, no less. In English, ships are always "she". In Russian, they are always "he". It has nothing whatever to do with hidden gender or sexuality issues, it's just the English language. Tannin 22:16, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)
I don't know Russian, but I understand that French and other languages need to assign grammatical gender to objects. But in English we have a quite useful neuter pronoun. If you refer to things in English by a gendered pronoun, it means they're connected to the sex. moink 22:38, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)
Please do not push a sexist view on a linguistic matter. Neutering ships as you propose is sexism, as by doing so you imply that this is a matter of sex, and not a language tradition or grammatical gender. Jor 22:31, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)
English does not have grammatical gender. We have a neuter pronoun, it, which seems to do quite well for us in other contexts. moink 22:38, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)
English used to have one. Distorting the language to alleviate perceived sexism which does not exist is political correctness gone overboard. Jor 22:47, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)
I think I understand your point, Moink, but I don't see any denegration implied in the usage. To ban such a long tradition unless there is an observable problem seems to me to be a little politically correct, and I don't think encylopedias should vote on such issues. Having said that, I remember when hurricanes became "he" and "she" instead of just "she." But I understood that because YV weathermen always used to explain that hurricanes were "she" because of "their tempestuous nature." I mean, how silly can you get? For my mind, putting people's names at all on such a horribly destructive force is asinine. They should just call them "Hurricane A", or "Hurricance 1" with the year noted. Or, if you must use names for ease of memory and description, use the phonetic alphabet: "Hurricane Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo," etc. Cecropia 22:34, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)
Hurricanes are good! At least, cyclones (which is what you call a hurricane if it occurs in this part of the world) are good. If it were not for cyclones, large areas of arid inland Australia would never get any rain worth talking about. Sure, they cause grief and destruction on the coast, but if they move inland they bring life and growth and renewal to vast areas. (Err ... am I off-topic yet?) Tannin 00:22, 13 Mar 2004 (UTC)
No, encyclopedias should not vote on the issue, either way. We should be NPOV. But I don't think it's offensive to anyone to refer to ships as it? Or am I wrong? moink 22:42, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)
Calling ships "it" is offensive, as it implies calling ships "she" as English does is sexism, which it is not. Jor 22:47, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)
To follow standard form is NPOV. To make a conscious decision to ban a particular usage is POV. If society changes and calls ships "it", then Wikipedia should follow. I don't Wikipedia should be in the forefront of that kind of thing. If you want to write about a ship, and say "it" I wouldn't stop you. Cecropia 22:48, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)~

The Chicago Manual of Style 15th Edition, 8.126, suggests "it" rather than "she". Tradition notwithstanding. -- Nunh-huh 22:50, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)

Moink said "My objection has to do with the association between women and objects, particularly objects used mainly by men." I disagree. Calling a ship "she" is personifying the ship, not objectifying women. fabiform | talk 23:34, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)

A ship is an it as long as it's just a generic object. When a ship is chistened, however, it becomes a she. The same applies to animals and even babies: an anonymous creature is an it, but naming bestows gender. Mkweise 00:08, 13 Mar 2004 (UTC)
Surely usage determines everything? Take French la lune is feminine, le soleil is masculine. In German it's exactly opposite: der Mond is masculine, die Sonne is feminine. Are we suggesting that we should rewrite grammar because of gender politics? In German it is das Vaterland because in German compound nouns it is always the second of the components which determines the gender of the compound word, as -land is a neuter word as in das Land so the whole becomes a neuter noun. German ships' names, too, as in English usage, take on the feminine, as in die Graf Spee. Usage is everything, therefore to use it for the Titanic would if anything be drawing attention to sexual and gender politics, rather than her tragic story. --Dieter Simon 01:04, 13 Mar 2004 (UTC)
Shouldn't we then call the USS John McCain a he then, instead? :) Dysprosia 03:05, 13 Mar 2004 (UTC)

Very interesting discussion so far. Here's my $.02 (FWIW I'm an extreme nautical illiterate). First, no disresect to our non-English colleagues, but there is no grammatical gender in English. Using the pronoun she with a ship has nothing to do with grammatical agreement. it is simply tradition. Now, whether we want to perpetuate that tradition, that's another matter. Without getting into issues of political correctness, I would suggest the best course would be to follow one of the standard references on usage, such as the Chicago Manual of Style that Nunh-huh cited earlier. Bkonrad | Talk 03:24, 13 Mar 2004 (UTC)

I feel that this is becoming to PC. If in the English language she has alway been used, keep on using it. I know a ship is inanimate, so an "it" but still. I do not feel that the using of male or female nouns is sexist, that is realy pushing it in my humble opinion. Waerth 13:58, 13 Mar 2004 (UTC)
Sorry, Dysprosia, the fact that a ship's got a male name, such as USS John McCain, doesn't really matter , as I was saying about the Graf Spee (male name). The Germans would also call her the equivalent of she.
As Bkonrad said it is a matter of tradition - or usage in a language. I think if you wanted to change that kind of tradition, you'd a hell of job to convince the person in the street, or the "Man on the Clapham Omnibus" as we Brits would say. And try as we may, people would still carry on using the phrases they have always used, so it's not a matter of political correctness, you'd never succeed. I don't really see why a tradition should be changed only because it might favour the female of the species.;-) --Dieter Simon 15:49, 13 Mar 2004 (UTC)

I think this should be treated in the same way as British and Americal English spelling-- do whichever you like, just be consistent within an article and don't change articles just for the sake of it. WRT the Chicago manual, aren't there other style guides that disagree with that? What about older (and newer?) versions of the handbook? Couldn't it be a case of PC itself? Mr. Jones 15:55, 13 Mar 2004 (UTC)

I'm not sure why I've taken an interest in this, having nil nautical background. But looking around on the web a bit, it seems clear to me that referring to ships as feminine appears to be standard for both the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy. In fact, it looks as though that is an official Royal Navy position. I found no such official pronouncement for the U.S. Navy, but the usage is clearly established throughout the Navy's web site. For other types of vessels, there is more variation. Lloyd's list (apparently THE standard for shipping vessels) decided to start using "it" rather than "she" in 2002 [1]. This article tends to support that change in the context of sailing vessels. Here are a few other interesting tidbits I came across: The Naval Historical Center on why a ship is referred to as she; Naval Glossary entry for "Ship" suggests ships were originally referred to as masculine in English but became feminine by 16th century -- shows traditional usage can change; Linguists discuss this usage. Bkonrad | Talk 17:14, 13 Mar 2004 (UTC)
Thanks Bkonrad for doing all that research! It seems the conclusion is that right now this particular part of language is in the midst of change, that during the transition period either pronoun is acceptable, and that few people find either offensive. I think Mr. Jones might be right about doing the same thing we do with British vs. American spelling. moink 02:22, 14 Mar 2004 (UTC)

Reference to a ship as "She" is a personification of an object, not an objectification of women. It is one used in reverence, for example as in "Mother-ship" exempifying the nurturing role of a ship to the safety of its crew. It bestows an empowering rather than derogatry idea of feminity to counterblance what was traditionally mascualine world. Like in all things balance is required. Would the objection of use of gender have been raised in the first place had ships been traditianlly referred to as "he"? I personally think not. :Dainamo march 15, 2004

And this is what I have issues with. Why, because a ship is considered "nurturing" or "beautiful" does it have to be female? As the opposite of a radical feminist I don't believe there are any sweeping generalizations one can make about the female sex. I think that this is just as limiting to men as to women. But I'm strolling off topic a bit here... I'm not really horribly offended by this but I do think that it's an arcane construction which has changed in most publications and should change in Wikipedia. moink 16:07, 16 Mar 2004 (UTC)
"Changed in most publications"? You're going need more evidence for that kind of a bold claim. The ship-related history book I finished two days ago, Lucky Lady (see USS Franklin (CV-13)), was published in 2003, uses "her" and "she" throughout. I have hundreds of books in my library referring to ships as "she", and none that do otherwise, so where exactly are these "most publications" that have supposedly changed? I don't care about people's bizarre rationales, they are bogus and/or pointless because the usage was established so many centuries ago. It's like saying the German language should change because all the nouns have different genders. Stan 16:48, 16 Mar 2004 (UTC)
Okay, maybe not most. I was referring to Bkonrad's research on LLoyd's list and the sailing magazine, as well as Nunh-unh's reference to the Chicago Manual of Style. I think your reference to "many centuries ago" is mostly irrelevant, language evolves, otherwise we'd be speaking Middle English or even Old English. moink 18:07, 16 Mar 2004 (UTC)
To clarify my point, I agree with you Moink "nuture and beauty" is not exclusively female, but that is not a reason why "nuture and beauty" cannot be seen as an attributes possible in females (or to males) without being sexist. For example, purple and plum may be assosciated in a metaphor, but that doesn't mean we have to think all plums are purple or that in order to see purple we have to look at a plum. I know that sounds a little silly, but it boils down to the same logic. Being sensitive to the fact that language can matter to some even if it does not to me, if the idea of nurture had negative connotations, I could understand the objection. But it isn't negative in the slightest and whatever the historical roots, I would expaect most to regard it as neutral until a discussion is started. I remember a public offcial being chastised as racist for using the worrds "nitty-griity" as it was claimed to have racial routes dating to the slave trade, but this obscure fact was probably unknown to probably everyone who heard it apart from the person who chose to object. If we try to erradicate everything with potentially offensive roots we would end up bannning nearly all Nursery rhymes and what I (personally) find offensive, is that we risk diverting from tackling the real issues of inequailty where they exist. Dainamo March 8, 2004
That was a very considered response Dainamo, and an interesting one. You're right, nurturing is not negative and we can apply it to either gender. However, I have to disagree with your argument tending to nursery rhymes. I never like slippery slope arguments, they always seem fallacious to me. What's appropriate in an NPOV encyclopedia is different than what is appropriate in a nursery rhyme, or a politician's speech, or a narrative by a sailor. And of course this is very minor compared to what inequality exists in the world. Though I have to say Wikipedia is pretty equitable, I can't think of what bigger battles there are to fight here. (except perhaps to get User:Irismeister to stop calling User:Theresa Knott "baby" and "dear" in a condescending manner. :) moink 16:39, 19 Mar 2004 (UTC)
Moink, after a long consideration, I agree with your original assertion that "she" should not be used, but not because it is offensive (referring to my earlier points above). Moreover, I consider the use of "she" too coloquial (in the sense of arenas of use rather than literal geography) such as in sailor's speak, poetry and even everyday spoken language which is different from how a factual manual such as Wikipedia should approach a subject Other encyclopdias seem to use "it". Dainamo March 21, 2004

I think this is something to monitor, but I'm still changing "it"s whenever I see them. However, if the language will not be too tortured, I'll change "it" to "the ship" or use the name, sort of like how one avoids the awkward "his/her" when being gender-neutral. The reference to Lloyd's shows that it's controversial even there, so it's premature to say this is some kind of big shift in the language. In the US Navy, people are well aware of the logical strangeness of John McCain being a "she", but the unwillingness to change anyway just shows you how strong the tradition is. Stan 14:46, 16 Mar 2004 (UTC)

The loss of grammatical gender in English is decadent and corrupt. If we were still talking correctly, your head would be an He, your nose a She, and your eye an It. It's precisely because we wrongly fail to use sexed pronouns routinely in this manner that we have all of these issues about non-sexist language. This is all the more reason to cling fiercely and preserve those vestiges of grammatical gender that continue to exist in English. Smerdis of Tlön 16:44, 16 Mar 2004 (UTC)
No offense Smerdis, but that's a load of nonsense. The usage is not even a vestige of grammatical gender. It is simple tradition. Period. I have no real problem with using she or her to refer to ships. I think it's kind of quaint. (I wonder how Navy men feel about being thought quaint? :) While the usage itself doesn't really bother me much, I have to agree with moink that some of the justifications and rationales for the usage are borderline offensive (if not outrightly so). In my earlier entry, I decided not to cite the many, many crude jokes that purported to explain and justify the usage. Although the relationship between language, thought and behavior is certainly complex, I think we would do well to be cognizant of how language usage can sometimes (perhaps even unintentionally) reinforce offensive attitudes. Bkonrad | Talk 17:36, 17 Mar 2004 (UTC)
I think that the discussion goes astray right from the start, if we start talking about "offensiveness" of using a sexual reference. Sure, some people might think it has something to do with sexuality seeing this, but for me the main problem about referring to ships as "she", is that they are inanimate things; it's simply distracting while reading an article, that such would be referred to in a similar way you'd refer to a person. It has nothing to do with the gender, let alone sexual implications, and I'd be just as distracted if they were referred to as "he" (although reading of some battleships, that "she" may look even more bizarre :P).
My opinion is, that in a neutral dictionary like this, things should be referred to as "it" and persons as "she/he". Sailors can keep their traditions for all I care, and poetic/fictional writing is a whole other deal anyway, but here I'd go with Lloyd's.