Wednesday, June 14, 2006

He, she or it?

Some random ramblings this time ...

We're used to referring to boats - right up to bloody great warships - as 'she'; it's a courtesy we're taught to extend them from an early age. But does this apply to canal boats? After all, much of the maritime terminology that worked its way up the rivers wasn't traditionally used on the canals: 'in' and 'out' (or right and left), not port and starboard; fore end, not bow, and so on. Having diligently learnt the nautical terminology on first taking up boating, those of us who want to get it 'right' are then faced with unlearning it and learning a whole load of new terms. (Whether it's more pretentious to try to get it 'right' than to merrily get it 'wrong' is another question I might come back to. I'm not so much motivated by a desire to 'get it right', as to know what is right, just for the sake of knowing.)

And it's amazing how ingrained those terms have become. Mind you, port and starboard are such useful concepts that I've taken to using them when talking about cars, and unlike near- and offside, they're international. Only understood by boaty types though, unfortunately. We also habitually characterise our cars as female, 'she' and 'the old girl' (or is that just in my household?).

But is Warrior conceivably a she? Not a problem for Helyn - clearly a river boat. Not really a problem for Andante - obviously female (don't ask how I know). But somehow for Warrior it doesn't seem to fit, even as a courtesy title. One likes to think, perhaps, that canal people were less sentimental, or maybe less superstitious, than their seafaring peers, and for that reason less likely to anthropomorphise the lumps of metal and wood on which their livelihoods, if not their lives, depended. But try referring to a boat as 'it' - it feels awkward. I find myself avoiding pronouns altogether when talking about Warrior. Hmmm.

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