Archive for the ‘Gender’ Category

All about -ette

March 28, 2021

Diminutive, feminine (in some sense), both. In the One Big Happy strip of 3/4, in my comics feed on 3/36:


In modern English — that’s important — the suffix -ette has two relatively productive — that’s also important — functions: as a literal diminutive, referring to a small version of the referent of the base to which –ette is attached (“diminutive” suffixes can have a variety of other functions, notably as expressing affection towards this referent); and as a literal feminine, referring to a female version of the referent of the base to which –ette is attached (“feminine” suffixes can have a variety of other functions, notably as markers of grammatical gender (ggender), as opposed to natural, or sex, gender (ngender); English doesn’t have ggender).

The big generalization about modern English is that –ette attached to bases with inanimate reference (like disk) tends to have the literally diminutive function (diskette), while attached to bases with human (or, more generally, higher-animate) reference (like usher), –ette tends to have the literally feminine function (usherette). Novel formations follow the generalization: a spoonette would be a small spoon, not a spoon in female shape, or a spoon intended for use by girls and women; while a guardette would be a female guard (perhaps viewed dismissively or derogatorily), not a miniature guard.

Ruthie’s brother Joe apparently fails to appreciate the big –ette generalization, and takes a bachelorette to be a miniature bachelor, rather than the female counterpart of a bachelor (in Joe’s terms, a grown-up girl — a woman — who isn’t married yet).


Why is he calling her his thesaurus?

May 28, 2019

Today’s morning name was the Italian phrase il mio tesoro, and there’s no mystery where it came from: on my overnight iTunes, the 1959 Carlo Maria Guilini recording of Don Giovanni had reached Luigi Alva singing “Il Mio Tesoro” just as I woke. What was odd was that my still sleep-addled brain was puzzling over why Don Ottavio was calling Donna Anna his thesaurus.

Attribute it to an overactive mental-association apparatus connecting It. il tesoro ‘treasure’ (but also ‘darling, honey, dear’) to Engl. thesaurus referring to a specialized type of dictionary (derived ultimately from Greek). In this case, one reproducing a historical connection between It. tesoro ‘darling’ and It. tesoreria ‘thesaurus’, which are, etymologically, second cousins, more or less.

After this, on to the aria, with performances by Alva, Araiza, and Domingo.


Beat Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar

May 12, 2018

(On the social and sexual lives of gay men, with photos, so not to everyone’s taste. Almost surely not to Facebook’s taste.)

Recent Facebook conversation, initiated by poster J1:

First time being called “Daddy” while playing with a guy at a bar. Bittersweet!

With a response from J2:

Yeah, I can see the bittersweet part, for sure. Heh. I remember you as a total twink.

And from me:

Ah, those days. For me, it was papacito from a cute server at a Mexican restaurant. I was charmed.

daddy here is the name of a social identity, a gay “type” (like twink, bear, muscle-hunk, or leatherman); and by extension, of a subculture of men of this type; and by a different extension, of a role or relationship between men, between an older and a younger man. Such identities, subcultures, and roles can intersect and combine, as here:


The news for penises, Norwegian edition

June 27, 2015

Passed on by Chris Hansen on Facebook, this story of 6/23 from (“Norway’s news in English”), “Is this the worst summer job ever?”:

A nineteen-year-old in Norway has been hired by a sexual health charity to play a giant penis who surprises passers-by by spraying them with golden confetti.

“I thought it was hilarious. If I can do a good thing for others, just by being a dick, there is nothing better,” Philip van Eck, the man inside the penis costume, told Norway’s Tønsberg Blad newspaper.

It’s all about STDs.


Tall guys

December 31, 2014

(About gender rather than language.) Today’s Dilbert:

Meanwhile, collected in real life at a local restaurant yesterday, one Silicon Valley tech guy to another, veering briefly from Valley Talk to personal matters:

Chicks dig tall guys.

In another context, this could have been framed as

Guys dig short chicks.

On height, there’s a strong tendency towards dissortative mating, the socially ideal pair having a man taller than his female partner.


Calvin faces grammatical gender

March 1, 2014

The Calvin and Hobbes strip from 2/26:

Calvin shows the common confusion between sex and grammatical gender, compounded by the apparent assumption (incorrect) that the assignment of nouns to grammatical genders is the same in all languages with grammatical gender. I sympathize with the teacher’s frustration.

Playing with French morphology

September 15, 2013

From Benita Bendon Campbell, this reminiscence of a moment during her time in Paris with Ann Daingerfield Zwicky, many years ago:

Ann and I and aother friend were having afternoon tea at our local café on the Boulevard Saint Germain. The patron and patronne had just acquired a German shepherd puppy named Rita. In French, a German shephejrd is “un berger allemand.” Our friend remarked that Rita must be “une bergère allemande” — or a Gereman shepherdess. That is funny in French as well as in English. (The correct form is “une femelle berger allemand.” The name of the breed is invariable.)

Bonnie’s sketch of une bergère allemande:


Sex/gender symbols

April 13, 2013

From Kim Darnell on Facebook, a story from a year ago (4/17/12) about the adoption of a gender-neutral pronoun in Swedish, with this handsome accompanying graphic:


The graphic has three interlinked components: The “female symbol” (or “mirror of Venus”), a circle (representing a body) with a cross below it (♀ in biological literature); the “male symbol” (or “spear of Mars”), a circle with an arrow at the upper right (♂ in biological literature); and a plain circle in the center, representing a body unspecified as to sex. Turning to grammatical gender rather than biological sex, the mirror of Venus represents feminine gender (as in the Swedish pronoun hon ‘she’), the spear of Mars the masculine gender (as in the Swedish pronoun han ‘he), and the plain circle the new gender-neutral 3sg Swedish pronoun hen).

A complexity here is that this symbol is sometimes taken to be a transgender symbol, the central circle represeting someone who in some sense is *both* female and male. And for this purpose there are a number of competing symbols.


The silent tiger-duck

October 24, 2012

Making up cards to send to correspondents yesterday, I pulled out a booklet of German stickers for kids. About a creature that appeared to be a wooden pull-toy with the name Tigerente. Tiger-duck? Well, yes, and you can sort of see that: