Wednesday, July 02, 2008


I've always found it difficult to grasp the whole gender thing in the French language. I mean a chair is a chair, it's not feminine nor masculine, but one day, some French person decided that a chair is female and voila, la chaise was born. A knife, however, is masculine, according to the French, and that is why we say un couteau. I say show me the penis on a knife and then I will accept that it is male. No dinkle, not male.

I have other problems concerning the genders of objects, like the fact that I have an odd compassion for anything called he or she. This becomes particularly tricky when, for example, FP calls a spider 'she'. Strictly speaking a house spider is not an object, but unless you have a microscope or you are a genius who specialises in creepy crawlies, no one knows whether they are male or female anyway.

The other evening we were both standing in the living room looking at the spider in the corner of the room. He held a glass in one hand and a fly swatter in the other while I cowered behind him, holding tightly onto his shirt in sheer terror, my knuckles turning white.

"Kill it!" I hissed at him. We'd been standing staring at the creature for the past ten minutes, arguing back and forth over how to deal with it. He wanted to catch it in the glass and put it outside (the big softy) and I wanted it squished. I gave him a nudge forward and indicated the fly swatter in his hand.

"Kill. It." I repeated, this time more forcefully. With the vibration if FP's footstep on the parquet, the spider tensed, ready to run. My heart started racing a racehorse (it's a bad simile but I'm tired and my brain can't find anything else that races) and I tensed too, ready to flee from the room.

"But she's only small," FP said, "and she's scared."

My heart melted. "Aw no," I said, shaking my head, "no, don't do that."

He turned to look at me. "Don't do what?"

"Don't call it a she. That's a spider, it's an it, not a she." He laughed at me. "You can't just give a spider a gender," I continued. "That changes the whole situation!"

FP raised an eyebrow. "How so?"

"Because if you say it's a girl then I feel a bond between us. Sisterhood and all that. It's almost as bad as giving her a name."

"You just called it a 'her'." He stated, amused.

"Yes," I hung my head, "yes, I did."

"You still want me to kill her?"

"No." I whispered.

And that was that. Just like that, FP had won the fight. The spider was saved, and I named her Priscilla. But you see, this is the difficulty with the French language, when everything has a gender, I am destined to forever have sympathy and compassion for inanimate objects such as staplers and doorknobs and tables. And spiders.


Daddy Papersurfer said...

I, for one, am very glad FP won that one - lickle pidees are loverly.
Three cheers for Priscilla ... ra ra ra!

[Wasps are always 'its' BTW - it's the law].

T.D. Newton said...

I only refuse to kill spiders when they're obviously creeping someone out more than me (and I'm in no particular danger). Otherwise they are smears on my soles without a concern for their gender or religion.

On the language business, I wonder if the masculine/feminine were assigned based on shape and usefulness. A woman is more likely to sit in a chair, if men follow their manners, and a knife is actually quite phallic ... even the stabbing motion can be considered obscurely sexual.

Yes, I can be offensive in multiple ways in a single comment. Yes I can.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought it was odd that animals (eg le chat) have a generic gender, no matter what their real gender is.
My poor little kitty's a girl, so I'm glad she doesn't have to live in France.

Jennie said...

I hate gender in languages. It has absolutely no purpose whatsoever other than to confuse foreigners and to make us learn several different spellings and pronunciations for one damn adjective!

Jaywalker said...

Yeah, I have problems with tortoise, because ours was male. I mean, Julius "la tortue". All wrong. And "serre" gets me every time for some reason.

If all goes well with le prince, one day you like me can have your own gender correcting posse "non maman, UNE barbapapa"...

Princesse Ecossaise said...

DP I always knew you were a strange 'un! And according to the French wasps are female!

TD you really did manage to be offensive in so many ways in that comment! Trés bien! Haha I had to laugh when you mentioned the theory of a chair being female because it's women who would be sitting in it and the knife being phallic..! Wow you crack me up! However I think your theory is a wee bit flawed ;-)

jenn luckily Ollie is male eh!

jennie yes! yes, yes, yes! Totally agreed.

jaywalker Ha! Oh deary me, I think I'd prefer that my posse allow me to make my mistakes in peace!

joy suzanne said...

I LOVE this post! I feel the same way... assigning gender to these things inspires sympathy. Too funny. Humanizes everything.