Why are Snakes Feminine and Airplanes Masculine?

I am a logical person.

Order is Queen in my life. Most things I own serve a function. My closet could be on the cover of Organized Living, with every item in its place depending on its frequency of use. A favorite book of mine is entitled “The Reason of Things”. So you can imagine my frustration when I discovered that the Serbian language is completely void of my favorite virtue: Logic.

This is one of those languages where every word is assigned a gender. The idea of this makes me want to fold my arms and stomp my feet like a child and scream “No! I will not do it. I refuse to accept a language that is this illogical.” Yes, I know, very many other languages have this exact same protocol, but does that make it any better? Now I’ll have to not only learn each new vocabulary word, but also learn its gender. The work is doubled. But it’s not about the extra work, it’s about the Why. Why is it like this? Why would an inanimate object such as a table or a chair be assigned a gender when it is not a male or female? Why would a school be “she” instead of “it”? And more importantly, Why would a brain be male and a soul be female? Do the Serbs subconsciously think that women are more soulful and men are more brainy? If you talk about a woman’s mind, why must it be manly? And to reference a man’s soul, are you referencing a female part? This is nonsensical! Is it backward, old fashion, chauvinistic? Or is it simply arbitrary, such as a watch being a male, and a coffeepot a female. Why would a coffeepot be a female? Does it have curves? Look good in heels? Can it give birth? Why is a watch a male? Is it good at manual labor? Can it mate with the coffeepot? These are questions that bother me to no end. Why is a backpack a male? Why? And how should I derive the gender of the backpack, from what source, for what reason, is the backpack a male? Should we give it a name and humanize it since it indeed has been given a gender too? Why would a holiday be male? And a glass of wine a female? And then there’s words like zena, which mean both wife and woman, why is this? Are all women wives? If you reference your mother or sister, who is a woman, are you calling her your wife? Why is the word for husband, muz, different than the word for man, covek, and why is the word for baby gender neutral, when indeed babies have genders and coffee pots do not. I could go on forever! It’s infuriating!

Many of you are saying, oh, the English language is illogical too, take our spelling for instance, it too can be nonsensical! I know, I know, but at least we have patterns and norms and it does have some logic. In English you know that a cell phone is an “it”, it just is! It’s not a male or a female, it’s an object for crying out loud, and only items with life have gender. Only people and animals have something about them that defines their gender, and so why then would we give genders to placemats and pianos and paintings and things? It’s madness!

This frustration rises within me whenever I allow myself to dwell on it, and I know that to make progress I need to accept it. It’s like advanced mathematics, sometimes you get to a point where you just can’t wrap your mind around a complex equation, but you know that It Is So, so you must just accept it for what it is, and move forward. So I will apply this mathematical truth to the illogical Serbian language and move forward, eagerly asking my teachers about each inanimate object, “Is this a he or a she?”

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2 thoughts on “Why are Snakes Feminine and Airplanes Masculine?

  1. It has to do with the way the word ends if it is masculine, feminine or neutral. I figured that out back when studying French that words that ended with ‘e’ would generally be feminine unless they had a sort of “rough” sound despite the ending. Like the word garage, for example, ends in an ‘e’ but has that sort of harsh sound at the end, so it’s masculine. In Serbian, which I probably know less of than you, it seems similar that way in which you should look at the letter the noun ends with for a clue, and in cases where it doesn’t follow that rule note the ending syllable sound. I think the ‘a’ ending words tend to be feminine, for example.

    So the logic, I’d say, is that it is based on the way the word sounds – in particular it’s ending.

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