Not long ago a question arose about the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. Stylistically speaking, is this mighty ship a “she” or an “it”? The answer is, she is a “she.”

That definitive and unequivocal reply comes from the public information office of the U.S. Navy. Nautical tradition must be served – and this tradition is not merely old, it is venerable.

Maritime authorities advance a number of reasons for feminizing a ship. A dozen readers provided this explanation:

“A ship is called a ‘she’ because there is always a great deal of bustle about her. There is usually a gang of men about. She has a waist and stays. When she is all decked out, it takes a lot of paint to keep her good-looking. It is not the initial expense that breaks you, it’s the upkeep. It takes an experienced man to handle her correctly; and without a man at the helm, she is absolutely uncontrollable. She shows her topsides, hides her bottom, and when coming into port, she always heads for the buoys.”

That exercise in political incorrectness comes to you from the inexhaustible resources of the Internet. It is attributed to a famous Greek historian, George P. Anonymous.

The tradition may be as old as Anonymous, but it is linguistically inconsistent. The French view ships as masculine – “le navire,” “le vaisseau,” “le sous-marin.” The Spanish give us “el barco” (m) and “la nave” (f). In Italy, “una nave” is feminine. In German, “ein Schiff” ist neuter. Cmdr. Michael J. Fulca of Tucson contributes a comment that “Russians refer to their ships as ‘he’ – this is one of the few points Tom Clancy got right in ‘The Hunt for Red October.”‘

The old order changeth. In March of last year, The Associated Press reported from London:

“A shipping-industry newspaper said yesterday it will no longer refer to ships with the feminine pronoun ‘she,’ ending centuries of seafaring tradition.

“Lloyd’s List, founded in 1734 and one of the world’s oldest daily publications, said in the future it will refer to all vessels as ‘it.’ … ‘I decided it was time to catch up with the rest of the world,’ said editor Julian Bray.”

James Kilpatrick is a syndicated columnist.


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