Posted in English

Neuter Kids on the Block

I mentioned a few weeks back that I had backed out of a seminar on suffragettes in Portugal. Well, the tutor, seminar leader, whatever, sent out an email with some course materials. I was interested in the opening lines (In the image up there, 👆) Can you spot it?

As you probably know, portuguese has two genders, masculine and feminine, and all nouns have one or the other, even though physical objects and abstract concepts have no biological sex, they are all sorted into two categories too. And if referring to a group of – say – two women and two men, or even a thousand women and one male cat, the fact that there’s a mix of genders means you use the masculine as default so it would be “eles” not “elas”. Obviously this seems a bit silly on its face. I’m not going to get on my soapbox here because it’s not my language, but it seems like it would be fairer if you went with the majority or something. Anyway, what you have in the screenshot is the use of “querides” with an – es ending instead of either – as or – os.

It’s easy to see why this makes sense from a feminist point of view since mixed groups shouldn’t default to the masculine ending. It’s not just a typo either. At the end she says “beijinhos para todes”, which I keep pronouncing as “toads” and imagining a princess/frog situation.

I’ve had someone explain to me that e can be used as an ending for people describing themselves as “non-binary”. I haven’t seen any examples of this in the wild. For example, if you read the Wikipedia entry for Sam Smith you’ll find it carefully written to avoid any pronouns or gender-specific endings that refer to him directly. Where they do exist they are made to refer to other nouns. For example in the first paragraph it says “é uma personalidade britânica” where the a on the end of britânica refers to “personalidade” not to Smith himself. I think it would be kind of silly to squeeze gender-specific endings out of words referring to people, since a language that has gender for everything except people would be even sillier than a language that has gender for everything including people. IMHO one of the best things about English is that you don’t have the faff of remembering random genders for every single object and every single idea that has ever existed. If they don’t have a sex then they are all just “it”, and that’s beautifully simple.

O Feminino é o Moderno

And one final thought on gender: I always find it odd that for example the idea of feminity itself is masculine. What do I mean? Well, there’s a book called “O Feminino e o Moderno” by Ana Luísa Vilela, Fábio Maria da Silva and Maria Lúcia Dal Farra. Why is The Feminine Masculine? Weird historical reasons, that’s why!

Equally surprising is the word “grávida” (pregnant) which, if you look it up, is defined as the feminine version of grávido, as if men could get pregnant and in fact pregnant men were the default. It’s all a bit Judith Butler if you ask me.