Maritime paper has `she' change

Lloyd's List to use `it' to refer to ships, not female pronoun

March 21, 2002|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

Whether it's in the engine room, on deck or in the wheelhouse, seafarers in Baltimore and beyond have affectionately referred to their ships by the female pronoun she in keeping with centuries of maritime tradition.

Time for a she change, says Lloyd's List, an internationally known shipping industry newspaper based in London. Billed as one of the world's oldest daily publications, Lloyd's reported in an editorial that it was abandoning the pronoun and would instead refer to all vessels as "it."

The newspaper said it was time to "bring the paper into line with most other reputable international business titles."

Lloyd's expects to get an earful from some of the more tradition-bound among its 10,000 readers worlwide. Rupert Denney, president of the Maryland Maritime Association, is among those who prefer tradition to modern sensibility.

"In my view, a ship is a she because it has to be looked after carefully and can periodically have a mind of its own in heavy weather," he said. "Not only that, it strikes me as first of all being neutered, which would be unfortunate, and inanimate, which would also be unfortunate, because it [a ship] is neither."

In the minds of longtime Maryland seafarers, a ship is anything but an inanimate it.

"It was home," said Roland Williams, a retired Baltimore seafarer who began his maritime training in 1944 at age 16. Williams started his 50-year career in the engine room and later took a job as a deckhand on commercial ships that sailed all over the world.

"In the 50 years I've been sailing around here, it's been referred to as a she. ... That's always the way it was and it seems to me even before that time it was she. Younger people today might have a different thinking about it," he said.

James W. Cheevers, curator of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, said the tradition of referring to ships as she might have originated with Latin. In that language, the word for ship is navis, which is feminine. By extension, navis bellica, or warship, is also feminine.

Cheevers has a file on the subject, including articles that claim the practice dates back thousands of years.

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz famously offered his take on the practice in a 1940 speech to the Society of Sponsors of the U.S. Navy, an organization of women charged with christening vessels.

Quoting Nimitz, Cheevers said: "A ship is always referred to as `she' because it costs so much to keep her in paint and powder."

At the museum, Cheevers isn't bothered too much by it. Years ago, he became concerned that she might not sit well with some women at the academy or elsewhere.

"I very often use it rather than she," he said. But he points out that traditions can take generations to die out.

"The old-timers, they won't go for it at all. They'll continue to use she," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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