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Ships to lose their femininity

The QE2: She may look elegant, but
The QE2: She may look elegant, but "she" is now an "it"  

LONDON, England -- Ships are to lose their sex, to the consternation of sailors and historians alike.

The world shipping industry's newspaper, Lloyd's List, has decided that from now on ships will lose their femininity and will be referred to as "it," not "she."

"We see it as a reflection of the modern business of shipping," Julian Bray, the paper's editor, told the Financial Times on Wednesday.

"Ultimately they are commodities...not things that have characters."

It is not known how the habit of treating ships as feminine began though it is a custom used mainly in English dominated countries.

Some believe it originates from the time ships would be dedicated to a goddess whose figure was carved on the bow.

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Although women were considered to bring bad luck at sea, mariners always use the pronoun "she" when referring to their ships.

Whether its proper name is masculine, or whether it is a man o'war, a battleship, or a nuclear submarine, a ship is always referred to as "she."

One explanation is that a ship was nearer and dearer to the sailor than anyone except his mother. Vessels are also know to have "sister" ships.

The U.S. Naval Historical Center Web site says it is customary to classify things as feminine "especially those things which are dear to us."

Author Dr. Ronald Hope says the tradition of referring to sailing vessels as "she" dates back to the days of Ancient Greece.

Ode to a ship 

Hope, 80, a former director of the UK-based Maritime Society, told CNN: "Ships have been 'she' since Greek times.

"Even as recently as the 19th century most of the sea shanties referred to then as 'she' and I recall in my youth ships owners always telling stories about why a ship was like a woman. "It's a shame that it is being changed. Ships are mostly very individual and 'it' seems a bit impersonal."

Peter Goodwin, curator of HMS Victory at Portsmouth, on England's south coast, said: "It's a terrible idea.

"No ship is exactly the same and all of them have their own characteristics. You ask any sailor and they will tell you that you care for a ship, you tend to their needs and sometimes they play you up. But they are never an 'it'."

Pieter van der Merwe, general editor at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, told the FT: "Culture is a question of continuing tradition and one should preserve those inexplicable quirks.

"It's not just a sentimental thing; you lose a level of understanding unless you understand the language of the time you're talking of."


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