[B-Greek] Neuter Gender strips Personality, or not?

Jonathan Robie jwrobie at mindspring.com
Thu Jun 18 06:09:33 EDT 2009

Someone really should take the time to write a Greek equivalent to Mark 
Twain's "That Awful German Language". Anyone think they could write a 
New Testament Greek version of the section on gender and nouns?

Funk's Grammar hints at the basics:


103. /Gender/. In English gender may be said to be natural, i.e. males 
(men and animals) are masculine, females (women and animals) are 
feminine, and all inanimate things are neuter. There is also a common 
gender of nouns which denote persons or animals of either sex, e.g. 
/parent/, /cousin/, /friend/. In relation to Greek, two things require 

103.1 In Greek, nouns denoting males are indeed masculine, and nouns 
denoting females are feminine, but a large number of nouns denoting 
things which are understood to be neuter in English are either masculine 
or feminine. Gender is thus both natural and grammatical.^2 /House/ is 
neuter in English as in German (/das Haus/), but in Greek it is feminine 
(ἡ οἰκία). /Day/ is feminine in Greek (ἡ ἡμέρα), masculine in German 
(/der Tag/), but understood to be neuter in English.[/quote]

But it's just not as vivid or as funny as Twain.


[quote="Twain"]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 *Engländer*; to change the sex, he adds 
*inn*, and that stands for Englishwoman -- *Engländerinn*. 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* Engländer*inn*," -- 
which means "the *she-Englishwoman*." I consider that that person is 

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*." 
When he even frames a German sentence in his mind, with the hims and 
hers in the right places, and then works up his courage to the 
utterance-point, it is no use -- the moment he begins to speak his 
tongue flies the track and all those labored males and females come out 
as "*it*s." And even when he is reading German to himself, he always 
calls those things "*it*," where as he ought to read in this way:


    2. I capitalize the nouns, in the German (and ancient English) fashion.

It is a bleak Day. Hear the Rain, how he pours, and the Hail, how he 
rattles; and see the Snow, how he drifts along, and of the Mud, how deep 
he is! Ah the poor Fishwife, it is stuck fast in the Mire; it has 
dropped its Basket of Fishes; and its Hands have been cut by the Scales 
as it seized some of the falling Creatures; and one Scale has even got 
into its Eye, and it cannot get her out. It opens its Mouth to cry for 
Help; but if any Sound comes out of him, alas he is drowned by the 
raging of the Storm. And now a Tomcat has got one of the Fishes and she 
will surely escape with him. No, she bites off a Fin, she holds her in 
her Mouth -- will she swallow her? No, the Fishwife's brave Mother-dog 
deserts his Puppies and rescues the Fin -- which he eats, himself, as 
his Reward. O, horror, the Lightning has struck the Fish-basket; he sets 
him on Fire; see the Flame, how she licks the doomed Utensil with her 
red and angry Tongue; now she attacks the helpless Fishwife's Foot -- 
she burns him up, all but the big Toe, and even *she* is partly 
consumed; and still she spreads, still she waves her fiery Tongues; she 
attacks the Fishwife's Leg and destroys *it*; she attacks its Hand and 
destroys *her* also; she attacks the Fishwife's Leg and destroys *her* 
also; she attacks its Body and consumes *him*; she wreathes herself 
about its Heart and *it* is consumed; next about its Breast, and in a 
Moment *she* is a Cinder; now she reaches its Neck -- *he* goes; now its 
Chin -- *it* goes; now its Nose -- *she* goes. In another Moment, except 
Help come, the Fishwife will be no more. Time presses -- is there none 
to succor and save? Yes! Joy, joy, with flying Feet the she-Englishwoman 
comes! But alas, the generous she-Female is too late: where now is the 
fated Fishwife? It has ceased from its Sufferings, it has gone to a 
better Land; all that is left of it for its loved Ones to lament over, 
is this poor smoldering Ash-heap. Ah, woeful, woeful Ash-heap! Let us 
take him up tenderly, reverently, upon the lowly Shovel, and bear him to 
his long Rest, with the Prayer that when he rises again it will be a 
Realm where he will have one good square responsible Sex, and have it 
all to himself, instead of having a mangy lot of assorted Sexes 
scattered all over him in Spots.


There, now, the reader can see for himself that this pronoun business is 
a very awkward thing for the unaccustomed tongue.[/quote]

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