“ps = I wonder whether ‘weblog’ is masculine or feminine?” Response

Matt Webb wrote on his blog, Interconnected:

20 February, 2000:
Posted at 23h56. Permalink.
ps = I wonder whether ‘weblog’ is masculine or feminine?

Response by Will Murray:

Weblog” should be gender neutral in a general sense. Since blogs are reflections of their human creators, I think the gender of the noun aligns with the gender of the blogger. It therefore would have the potential to be either masculine or feminine.

That really wouldn’t be a problem in English where words are gender neutral all the time. It also wouldn’t be a problem in German, where there are masculine (“der weblog“), feminine (“die weblog“), and neuter (“das weblog“) forms (one of the few cases where three genders actually makes the slightest bit of sense!). It would be the languages that divide everything into only two possible genders, masc./fem., that would have a problem. I’d still say that gender of the noun should follow the gender of the blogger, so “le weblog” and “la weblog” or “los weblogs” and “las weblogs” would both be correct (within their various languages) assuming that the genders matched the blogger. If the blogger’s gender is unknown, probably a masculine form would be the default, as it is in many ambiguous cases. Likewise, for plural forms, mixed gender blogs would use the masculine, but a group of women’s blogs or for topics relating to women (Everyone knows that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the U.S., right?) should be referred to in the feminine.

Of course, people are not as nice and neat as language. What about the blog of a cross-dresser? Does the article follow the blogger’s articles of clothing and thus change genders whenever the blogger is in drag? What about a transsexual? At what point would the blog change genders? Pre-op, after the person has made the decision and is undergoing all that leads up to surgery? Or Post-op, when there’s really no going back? There are also intersexuals who are biologically both genders, but usually self-identify as one gender or another. What about people who are physically a single gender but feel that they are omni- or multi-sexual? It doesn’t seem fair in any of those cases to impose a particular gender on their blog for the convenience of language simplicity. Perhaps a gender neutral plural form should be used instead. That could also be helpful for the blogs of schizophrenic people with both male and female personalities. Or in such a situation, does each personality maintain his or her separate blog?

I rarely think about word genders, since I don’t deal with them in English. It still blows my mind that in German, the smooth and gently rounded spoon is masculine (“der Löffel“), the fork designed for poking and stabbing is feminine (“die Gabel“), and the somewhat phallic shaped and certainly most dangerous piece of cutlery, the knife, is neuter (“das Messer“). However, I don’t have to understand it to appreciate that different cultures do things differently, and that’s not only acceptable, it’s healthy and keeps the world interesting.

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p style=”margin-left: 0.5in;”>My response is meant to be humorous rather than serious, and I wrote it to point out that there are often things to consider besides the obvious. On the surface, the question seemed so simple, but it led to such a challenging answer. Languages are inherently messy when it comes to dealing with the realities of people. Or maybe it’s fairer to say that people are so messy with all their variations that languages can’t possibly keep up. It is too easy to think in a very local-centric manner. Is it any wonder that people’s words are often misconstrued and misunderstood? Obviously Mr. Webb is more conscious of other languages and cultures than many English-only monolinguists, and that is good!

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