Gender bender

This is something that has been bothering me for sometime and maybe someone out there can shed more light on it for me.

All nouns in French are either feminine or masculine. There seems little rhyme or reason to which are feminine and which are masculine, so the hapless French student (comme moi), must learn the gender along with the new word, or else they are sunk. Research on the web threw up some interesting, but not at all helpful, findings, such as that intimate parts of the female anatomy are male in gender, while a beard is feminine (the mind is starting to boggle a little at this point). But what I want to know is who decides what gender to assign a new word? I visualised some strictly gender-balanced committee meeting annually in a dusty garret in an alley off Montmartre to decide that Ipod should be female, but DVD male and so on.

Further research suggests a less satisfactory answer – it seems that it’s likely to be L’Académie française that decides the gender of new words. Disappointingly, the academy is not as gender-balanced as I had imagined – according to Wikipedia, in its entire history (stretching back to 1637 or thereabouts), it has had 710 members, only four of whom have been women. Humph. (Please use your imagination to supply my Gallic shrug at this point).


4 Responses to “Gender bender”

  1. So is it Le Guardian or La Guardian or should that be Guardianne? Fleas, even French Fleas do not care about gender so why should we?

  2. Or -see above : Est-ce qu’ainsi c’est devrait Le Guardian ou gardien de La ou cela être Guardianne ? Les puces, même les puces françaises ne s’inquiètent pas du genre ainsi pourquoi devraient nous ?

  3. Am impressed with your French Huttonian…but I would disagree about the fleas. Surely they care very much about gender, or at least sex, or otherwise they would have died out long ago. But you have given me an idea for another blog…watch this space.

  4. They love sex doubtless but I have a feeling that both sexes are identical hence the punch line to an old ditty I can not trace: ‘He Does and she does. Yippee”

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