Re: transvestites

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Thu May 22 1997 - 21:25:31 EDT

On the subject of gender in languages, here's part of Mark Twain's "That
Awful German Language", which I mentioned earlier:

Every noun has a gender, and there is no sense or system in the
distribution; so the gender of each must be learned separately and by heart.
There is no other way. To do this one has to have a memory like a
memorandum-book. In German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has.
Think what overwrought reverence that shows for the turnip, and what callous
disrespect for the girl. See how it looks in print -- I translate this from
a conversation in one of the best of the German Sunday-school books:

     Wilhelm, where is the turnip?
     She has gone to the kitchen.
     Where is the accomplished and beautiful English maiden?
     It has gone to the opera."

To continue with the German genders: a tree is male, its buds are female,
its leaves are neuter; horses are sexless, dogs are male, cats are female --
tomcats included, of course; a person's mouth, neck, bosom, elbows, fingers,
nails, feet, and body are of the male sex, and his head is male or neuter
according to the word selected to signify it, and not according to the sex
of the individual who wears it -- for in Germany all the women either male
heads or sexless ones; a person's nose, lips, shoulders, breast, hands, and
toes are of the female sex; and his hair, ears, eyes, chin, legs,
knees, heart, and conscience haven't any sex at all. The inventor of the
language probably got what he knew about a conscience from hearsay.

Now, by the above dissection, the reader will see that in Germany a man may
think he is a man, but when he comes to look into the matter closely, he is
bound to have his doubts; he finds that in sober truth he is a most
ridiculous mixture; and if he ends by trying to comfort himself with the
thought that he can at least depend on a third of this mess as being manly
and masculine, the humiliating second thought will quickly remind him that
in this respect he is no better off than any woman or cow in the land.

In the German it is true that by some oversight of the inventor of the
language, a Woman is a female; but a Wife (Weib) is not -- which is
unfortunate. A Wife, here, has no sex; she is neuter; so, according to the
grammar, a fish is he, his scales are she, but a fishwife is neither. To
describe a wife as sexless may be called under-description; that is bad
enough, but over-description is surely worse. A German speaks of an
Englishman as the EnglŠnder; to change the sex, he adds inn, and that stands
for Englishwoman -- EnglŠnderinn. That seems descriptive enough, but still
it is not exact enough for a German; so he precedes the word with that
article which indicates that the creature to follow is feminine, and writes
it down thus: "die EnglŠnderinn," -- which means "the she-Englishwoman." I
consider that that person is over-described.

Well, after the student has learned the sex of a great number of nouns, he
is still in a difficulty, because he finds it impossible to persuade his
tongue to refer to things as "he" and "she," and "him" and "her," which it
has been always accustomed to refer to it as "it."


The complete text for this essay may be found at:

I would be grateful for any references to an equivalent essay about koine
Greek ;->


Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703

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