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Curb your anthropomorphizing

An article in today’s Baltimore Sun about the N.S. Savannah refers to the ship throughout as she and her. By a happy congruence, the Associated Press Stylebook, the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, and the Chicago Manual of Style all advise that ships and boats are it. So, for that matter, does The Sun’s stylebook.

The Times is indulgent enough to add “except for literary effect.” But be advised, if you are a journalist striving for “literary effect,” you run the risk of stimulating the reaction expressed in one of my newsroom haiku: “Proud reporter asks, / ‘Don’t you think it’s lyrical?’ / Shoot me in the head.”

With hurricane season upon us, it is well to keep in mind that storms also lack gender.



Posted by John McIntyre at 12:17 PM | | Comments (4)


The US Navy Style Guide says:

Ships may be referred to as "she" or "her."

Yield to the higher authority, John.

Godspeed, Eve. Especially as the US (and the Royal) Navies are considerably older than any Style book.

If the US Navy Style Guide jumped off the roof, I wouldn't feel compelled to follow its example there either.

A foundational skill of editing is knowing when and how to determine what authorities to follow. The US Navy Style Guide is a fine authority for sailors, but for print publications, it is not a higher authority than Chicago or the AP stylebook.

The age of an authority is irrelevant.

I'm envisioning a newsroom that has ground to a halt because one copy editor is citing a yachting manual that refers to a yacht as "it"; pleasure craft nomenclature is exempt from the purview of the navy, right, Mr. McIntyre? At John's other elbow is an editor holding a 1594 codex of Ye Queene's Englische, which clearly states that livestock owned by the monarch take "who," not "that" ...

I wouldn't wish that situation on John, but he has enough authority of his own to expeditiously dispose of the problems.

Of course a stylebook has to choose, but railing against the use of "she" as shoot-me-in-the-head stuff just sounds like peevery. (Admission: like Miss Terse I have Navy in the family).

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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