Masculine and feminine words, He defined them

Part one of the Words of the Week for May 11-18, 2020, looks at the use and divinely inspired nature of masculine and feminine words in particular languages. Vassal, mother, false, and apotheosis mix it up in the top twelve rankings for this edition.

Covid-19 – she has been a real nuisance in 2020.

That sentence is definitely odd for a native English speaker. For anything that cannot have a biological gender, we would use the neutral pronoun “it”, rendering the above as “it has been a real nuisance for 2020.”

However, this would be an accurately translated sentence from German, I presume French (and Polish, too), and I assume for many other languages. It would be appropriate to say in German (transliterated), “That is a nice table. He is made of oak” (der Tisch – masculine noun). In Polish, I had heard this: “That Bible on your desk – she belongs to you?” (Biblia – feminine noun).

The ecdemic is changing the English language – as I pointed out last week – and other languages as well, it appears. This pass week, the official curators of the French language, who call themselves les Immortals, recently declared that the Covid-19 acronym is a feminine one, since the disease part of the acronym (maladie) is a feminine word in the French language. This news gives satisfying justification to see the word “noun” in the rankings at all, let alone atop of the Words of the Week for the first time since I started this exercise. Parts of speech have come close to reaching the pinnacle in the past, and noun has finally done it.

The gender reveal of Covid-19 may cause gnashing of teeth in some circles. It is especially irksome to people when they discover that the guardians of the French language are, and mostly have been throughout history, predominately male. Some take umbrage to the favouring of masculine nouns and words in our languages (for example, policeman, chairman, mankind). How would people react to discovering the disease that has put the new decade off to a really bad start is feminine? The resulting “pandemic” is feminine, too.

Today we live in an era where we are very sensitive to how things are classified: gender, racially, or otherwise. So sensitive, in fact, that Microsoft Word tries to have me gender-neutralize words such as spokesman or mankind. There was outrage when Dr Jordan Peterson described “chaos” as feminine in his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, and “order” as masculine.

Microsoft Woke 2017

If Covid-19 is feminine, and so too is pandemic, what about coronavirus, or fascism, racism, quarantine, furlough, and other words of high present relevance? Are there any boy-words to blame for the unusual time were are experiencing?

I grouped this week’s nouns* grouped according to their genders per the French and German languages. I chose French because it is the subject language of the news, and German because of my familiarity with it. After separating the German and French boy words from the German and French girl words from this week’s list as if it is a high school dance, we can find this:

(* “Pandemic” is by definition an adjective, but it is commonly used as a noun, or as a substantive adjective. Nonetheless, the German and French languages put a gender to it… well, in this case, her, I guess)


Coronavirus (le coronavirus) 
Noun (le non)Pandemic (la pandemie)
Fascism (fascime)Apotheosis (l’apothéose)
Racism (le racisme)Quarantine (la quarantine)
Verb (le verbe)Culture (la culture)
Furlough (le congé)Furlough (la permission)
Love (l’amour)Preposition (la préposition)
Defect (le défect) 
Montage (le montage) 
Socialism (le socialisme) 


MasculineFeminine            Neuter
 Coronavirus disease 2019 (die Coronavirus-Krankheit-2019)Coronavirus (das Coronaviren)
Fascism (der Faschismus)Pandemic (die Pandemie)Noun (das Hauptwort)
Racism (der Rassismus)Apotheosis (die Verherrlichung)Verb (das Zeitwort/das Verb)
Socialism (Sozialismus)Quarantine (die Quarantäne)Preposition (das Verhältniswort)
Furlough (der Heimaturlaub, der Zwangsurlaub)Culture (die Kultur) 
Defect (der Fehler, der Mangel)Love (die Liebe) 
 Preposition (die Präposition) 
 Montage (die Bildmontage, die Montage) 

In both languages, Covid-19, pandemic, and quarantine are feminine words. Pandemics spurred on by a global spreading of a disease does seem pretty chaotic to me.

Wait, don’t leave! Masculine words are not off the hook. In French, the coronavirus itself is masculine. The two political movements that brought the world to its knees for a second time (WWII) are masculine in French and German, as is racism, the hatred for humans of different colour or race. Fascism, socialism, racism – these particular things that attempt to bring order to our world have severe deficiencies of their own (by the way, “defect” is masculine in both French and German). I see a balancing act between the two gender classifications.

These methods of order must work in tandem with the culture, a feminine in French and German, in any society so that together order and culture can flourish properly. Culture can either embrace or repel the structure. A fractured, nihilistic culture may embrace a destructive form of order such as fascism. Or, a balanced, moral culture can repel such a form of order. Conversely, a proper, healthy form of order can reign in a culture gone off the rails.

Without chaos, order goes unchecked and strangleholds humanity. Without order, chaos is unrestrained and destruction in inevitable. Order is needed to keep things stable; chaos is needed to push the boundaries of what is possible. We need order and chaos to tussle with each other so that we can navigate our way forward collectively. It is the balancing act that ensures proper progression. I find that it is also a picture of the symbiotic relation man and woman have that God intended.

We see in Genesis 2:18-24 that God created man first, but soon saw that it was not good for man to be without a “helper.” So God then created woman “out of man”, out of the rib of the man (an illustration that man and woman are to be side by side each other; rib cage to rib cage). “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (emphasis mine).

A Biblical union of man and woman is one flesh that strives after the things of God. Circling our way back into French and German vocabularies, the distinction of male and female nouns is not intended to be uplifting to one and degrading to another, I surmise. Somehow, as if these values have been ingrained in us by a higher power, these languages depict the innate quality of words through their gender classification. Man and woman He created us; masculine and feminine words He defined them.

(I am not sure what to say about neutered words.)

I think it is fitting too that the word “love” is shared by both genders in French and German: le amour and die Liebe, respectively. It shows that love is something that can be properly described as masculine or feminine in nature.

Words of the Week – May 11-18, 2020 (words 1-12)

Now, let us return to English. Here are the top twenty-five Words of the Week for May 11-18 according to Merriam-Webster’s Online Unabridged Dictionary:

Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Online Dictionary

1. Noun

Last week’s ranking: 2

Meaning and usage

Why it is in the news

I am overjoyed to have something compelling to write about for noun this week. The guardians of the French language made headlines by declaring Covid-19 to be a feminine acronym, and this invited a healthy amount of articles from several news sources that discuss the aspect of languages putting a gender on all nouns (it makes learning German a real Schmerzen im Hintern).

Nouns in English – except for your beloved cars, that cruise ship you summered on, and old country – do not have genders. Old English had a system of grammatical gender similar to modern German, but this is thought to have died out because of contact with Old Norse in the 10th and 11th centuries and the momentum of the use of the determiner “the.”

As many of my wife’s students have said to her, learning all twelve tenses of the English language is troublesome enough. It is a better thing for us all for English to be a nearly completely neutered language.

2. Pandemic

Last week’s ranking: 3

Meaning and usage

Why it is in the news

The pandemic – known strictly as the ecdemic in this blog – has brought hardships on many people globally. It has also illuminated some of the finer things in life that we have forgotten about or ignored back when we were living “the old normal”: family, home-cooked meals, the essentials for day-to-day living.

The ecdemic has changed our attitudes on a number of things in life. In America, this includes having an alcoholic drink while on the move in public (by foot, of course.)

A piece from the BBC looks at how many American cities and states are relaxing their restrictions on having open-container alcoholic drinks in public areas. People have been allowed to consume beverages while on American streets. This liberty of liberties is widely done in countries like Germany.

This is a wonderful development in America and one that may finally entice me to move back home (facetiously stated, that was).

3. Fascism

Last week’s ranking: 1

Meaning and usage

Why it is in the news

Elon Musk (him again) defied “fascist” orders and reopened his Tesla factory in Alameda County, California. He and many other big-name persons have been at strong odds with California’s largely Democratic leadership and their lockdown protocols.

An article from Salon contains an audio interview with philosopher Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works¸ who says Trump can “use the pandemic to rule by decree.” The article plainly states that Donald Trump is an authoritarian.

Democrats exert fascism. Trump and his government exert fascism. I do not know who or what is fascist or fascism anymore.

4. Adjective

Last week’s ranking: 5

Meaning and usage

Why it is in the news

I covered last week that “pandemic” and “epidemic” are in fact adjectives – substantive nouns- and not nouns: pandemy and epidemy. I assume that “ecdemic” is an adjective form of ecdemy. For my crusade to elevate ecdemic to prominence in our language while also resurrecting pandemy and epidemy, I should use their proper forms.

5. False

Last week’s ranking: 9

Meaning and usage

Why it is in the news

Information abounds on the Internet, and that includes false information.

According to a BBC article, more than a quarter of the most-viewed coronavirus videos on YouTube contain “misleading or inaccurate information.” The articles cites research looking into the content of many popular videos allegedly spreading false information.

A “specialist disinformation and social media reporter” adds in the article that the false video tend to be flashier and more attractive than videos that contain reliable and true content about the virus.

YouTube and other social media sites do their best to remove erroneous and damaging content. Allowing for misinformation to stay online does seem like a dangerous decision. Given that so many people have access to the World Wide Web, it is feasible to think that a dangerous global movement could be inspired by an obscure YouTube channel.

Tackling threatening speech online is necessary. I am iffy on the aim of removing “false” information, however. Who deems for something to be false outright? An “immortal” academy of truth similar to the bearers of the French language described in this post’s introduction?

Our exposure to misinformation today is no different than what voters took in during the 1800’s presidential election. Thomas Jefferson, it was said, would create a nation where “murder, robber, rape, adultery, and incest will openly be taught and practiced.” Incumbent John Adams was accused as behaving “neither like a man nor like a woman but instead possessed a hideous hermaphroditical character.” The people back then seemed to use their own senses and make decisions on their own without information, “false” or not, suppressed.

(Quotes were drawn from this Forbes article, but my reading of John Ferling’s A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic gave me first knowledge of these entertaining campaign smears.)

6. Mother

Last week’s ranking: unranked

Meaning and usage

Why it is in the news

Mother’s Day being last week give the word “mother” juice to elevate to the sixth on this week’s list.

One tragic story relating to mothers comes out of Afghanistan on May 16, where gunmen stormed into a Kabul maternity clinic and gunned down nurses, mothers, and newborn babies. At least sixteen were killed. Absolutely horrific stuff that we read about too often in that part of the world.

A deal was signed on 29 February 2020 between the US and the Taliban (who denied involvement in the shooting, according to NPR) that was meant to be a step towards peace. That deal does not seem to be working.

7. Apotheosis

Last week’s ranking: unranked

Meaning and usage

Why it is in the news

There is an assortment of topics and stories using the word “apotheosis” in the news, from an op-ed calling the protest of government lockdown order “the apotheosis of libertarianism” to a story of bored Russians making parody of art (one being titled “The Apotheosis of Quarantine”).

Apotheosis is used in other articles as a synonym of something reaching the pinnacle of fame or notoriety. We are quite good as a species at exalting something or someone to the highest honour only to no sooner tear them down when they reach the pinnacle of triumph. Athletes and celebrities are the primary victims of this.

8. Racism

Last week’s ranking: 13

Meaning and usage

Why it is in the news

I have written in previous weeks how the ecdemic has incited racist acts towards Asians in the last few months. This has happened at the hands or words of ignorant people. An article from The Intercept goes a step further and says that the coronavirus travel ban from China was driven by racism and not facts. The “facts” were that the coronavirus spread throughout the States because of travellers from Europe. “Race and racism disallowed the U.S. from recognizing Europe as a threat,” a UC Berkeley anthropologist is quoted to saying.

The article’s claim of inherent, structural racism in America’s response to the virus part hinges on a CDC study from 1 May 2020. The virus mostly came to the US from Europe, and not China, the author of The Intercept article concludes.

Yet looking at the cited CDC report in the article, there is no indication at all that racism played a part in deciding to close travel from China to the US before other travel restrictions were made. Travel from China was effectively restricting on February 2, around the time of the height of China’s battle against the virus. Travel from Europe was still permissible up until 12 March. It was not until mid-March – that same time – that Italy began to experience the peak of its coronavirus infections.

In short, the US banned travel from China and Europe when the coronavirus reached a panic-inducing peak level in each of the respective regions. The CDC report says the virus spread throughout the US through a combination of travellers from China, Italy, wider Europe, and even other regions of the US and those returning from cruise ships.

The Intercept fumbled their analysis of the CDC report. Rather, it jumped off-sides and incorrectly summarized the report in order to make the claim of structural racism against Asians in America.

9. Vassal

Last week’s ranking: unranked

Meaning and usage

Why it is in the news

Meanwhile, during the coronavirus and your respective lockdown, other news in the world is happening.

There has been some tension in the South China Sea in the last few weeks. China has been stepping up its military presence in the sea they long claim, hoping that their maritime, Asian neighbours will back away. This has prompted more US vessels to enter to discourage anything from escalating.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute encourages Vietnam and other ASEAN countries to hold their ground lest they become “vassal” states of China. Some distant Balkan countries have been considered to be vassal states to China because they have allowed the Chinese to build roads and develop infrastructure on their behalf.

10. Quarantine

Last week’s ranking: 6

Meaning and usage

Why it is in the news

Slowly, quarantine and stay-at-home measures are being reduced across the world. The German football league resumed last weekend, and the Australian Football League is set to re-bounce on June 11. Here in Malta, restaurants and hairdressers are to reopen in the coming days. (The two things which I desperately need, sports and a haircut, are within reach.)

There are certain US states who are re-implementing “normal life” in phases, but other states, like California, are reluctant. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city will not fully reopen until there is a cure for the virus. This has prompted popular figures like Elon Musk and Joe Rogan to openly criticise the restrictions, even enticing the latter to move out of the state altogether.

11. Correspond

Last week’s ranking: 17

Meaning and usage

Why it is in the news

The word is popular within articles citing statistics and research, especially in light of the coronavirus, hence it is difficult to pinpoint the exact story or topic that corresponds with the rise of correspond in this list.

12. Coronavirus

Last week’s ranking: 7

Meaning and usage

Why it is in the news

I doubt that you need to consult this blog to get your hourly fixings on coronavirus-related news, but here is something of interest anyway:

Australia won support from the international community for their push for an independent coronavirus inquiry, or an “impartial, independent, and comprehensive evaluations of the international response to the (ecdemic).” The call does not mention China. China’s foreign minister sees this as a way of politicizing the (ecdemic).

The inquiry is to be about “investigating what the world could learn from the devastating (ecdemic),” according to Australian agriculture minister David Littleproud.

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