Wherever she chooses

A sign on a bus in Israel:

Photo: When the wrong admin has to travel and then moves house, the result is a few weeks silence, now broken. This snapshot illustrates the state of play in the Israeli bus segregation issue. The sign reads "Every passenger may sit wherever he chooses (with the exception of those places marked for people with disabilities), harassment of a passenger on this matter may be considered a criminal act." Other than the (somewhat misleading) use of the male gender for the passenger, a step in the right direction.

Translation: “Every passenger may sit wherever he chooses (with the exception of those places marked for people with disabilities), harassment of a passenger on this matter may be considered a criminal act.”

“He” is the wrong pronoun there, but good about the sign.

Photo and translation by Gnu Atheism.


  1. says

    What if the Hebrew word for “passenger” happens to take masculine gender? Then using the masculine form of the verb would simply be a matter of grammatical consistency. I’m no expert on Hebrew, but compare the French lyric “Il avait un joli nom, mon guide, Natalie”: lit. “he had a lovely name, my guide, Natalie.” Even though Natalie is a girl, because “guide” is masculine in French, the pronoun is also masculine.

  2. says

    Oh right, that could be. I would still think it was sexist though. I think the whole system is sexist – nouns having genders is sexist. (But then I’m an Anglophone, so nouns having genders still seems alien to me, even though I started French way early.) The rule that a million women + one man is always ils not ells – that’s another one.

  3. stewart says

    In Hebrew there is no neutral genderless “passenger”. “Nose’a” is a male passenger and a female passenger is “nosa’at”. They could have done something like “nose’a/nosa’at” but didn’t. For reasons of brevity, the male form is in practice sometimes used in a sense that is supposed to include everybody, but this is a case where it would have been beneficial to exclude the more limited interpretation, which could imply that males, but not females, have freedom of seating choice.

  4. Pen says

    I think the whole system is sexist – nouns having genders is sexist.

    Worse yet, the male genitalia are feminine while the female genitalia are masculine. I’m not kidding.

  5. says

    Thanks, Stewart; that provides some clarity, and I would indeed agree that in this case it would have been better if it had been made more explicit that this applied to both “nose’a” and “nosa’at,” and especially the latter.

  6. csrster says

    How fortunate we are that English includes the gender-neutral third-person pronoun “they” for just this case, and how unfortunate we are that some people still have a problem with this ancient and well-attested usage.

  7. Joey Maloney Who Is Unable To Login For Some Obscure Reason says

    A friend of mine got some shit on a Tel Aviv bus just the other day. Not for sitting where she chose, although she did that, but for playing with her hair. Some orthodick kept hissing “assur! assur!” [forbidden!] at her. We were laughing about it later. She basically told him that if he didn’t want to see her, he should take a spoon and gouge out his eyes.

  8. stewart says

    The world’s languages contain such fascinating variety. There’s this argument about the extent to which one’s mental universe is shaped by one’s language (or vice versa), in which some unreasonable claims have been made. One thing that is reasonable to state is that certain languages force one’s attention on certain details. If one translates either “nose’a” or “nosa’at” into English, it’s fine to use the gender-neutral “passenger”. If another person comes along and wants to retranslate into Hebrew, there’s a problem if nothing about the context tells him whether it’s male or female. A choice must be made and one may simply not have the information at hand. We’re all used to varying degrees of this kind of identification being either necessary or not with gender. Suppose American English during slavery had developed in such a way that there was a different single word to represent either a white passenger or a passenger whom we would probably now describe as “African-American”. Along comes a Rosa Parks, makes a stand, wins and signs go up affirming everyone’s right to sit where they want, but using the term, that had always been used for almost everybody, that means a white passenger. Just a thought experiment, to help one think out of our normal box.

  9. says

    Yes, the gender thing is annoying. I think your language probably does provide one more filter between you and reality. In Spanish, for example, there are different verbs for to be (permanently) and to be (temporarily). Under Franco, when everyone was Catholic or else, people would say they were permanently married and temporarily dead. This made sense since the resurrection was more likely than a divorce. These days people are temporarily married and permanently dead. The verb for “earn” is the same as for “win”, and lots of ex-pat British parents get annoyed with that, because they want the kids to realise that they’re not the same thing – one involves effort the other might only involve luck.

  10. Nomit says

    “These days people are temporarily married and permanently dead.”

    I think someone has been pulling your leg, you esta muerto in Spanish, Franco or not. Married is pretty much optional.

    But surely noun gender cannot be sexist? Is that another leg pull?

  11. Vicki says

    Is there something about Hebrew grammar that would forbid following nosa’at with “wherever she or he chooses”?

  12. stewart says

    Yes, that wouldn’t really work. The moment you use “nosa’at” you’ve made a statement that you’re referring only to females, so the “he” would look bizarre. If you did “nose’a/nosa’at” (and that would be the order because in unvowelled Hebrew the only different between them is one additional letter – the “t” – so you could write it as the one word with just “/t” at the end) it would not be strange to have a “he/she” equivalent after it, but it could become convoluted, because not all possible variations between masculine and feminine could be taken care of with the addition or change of a suffix. The way it is here, they haven’t even used a single word for “he”, they’ve told us it’s “he” by using the masculine singular future tense of “to choose”. What would change if that were to be singular feminine future would be the second letter in the word. The word for “may” (the word after “nose’a”) is also given in masculine singular present tense (which could be feminised with the addition of the equivalent of a “t” at the end, just like “nose’a”). This may be getting too involved, but I wanted to give an adequate answer to the reasonable question posed by Vicki.

  13. says

    @ Nomit (#11) On this small island in the Canaries, people mostly say, “Es muerto,” but I suppose it could be a regional thing. It’s changed noticably in the 22 years I’ve been living here.

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