So…pronouns make the man? Or woman?


If you ask fundagelical Christians about God’s sex, they are adamant that He is definitely male. It doesn’t make sense to me — to use the usual TERFy arguments, does “he” have a penis? Does “he” make small mobile gametes? Does “he” even have gametes? Is “he” a “born biological male”? How does this even work? I have to wonder if this supernatural being should even be regarded as possessing any of the characteristics of a physical person. We could ask whether he has two arms, two eyes, or ten fingers, or even needs eyes and fingers, but some Christians are obsessed with questions about whether “he” has an adequate penis. The smarter metaphysical types are content to argue that “his” masculinity is a matter of essence, not crude biological bits.

Austin Powers is an ass, so perfectly appropriate to use him to illustrate AiG.

“Smarter” is not a term often used for the rascals at Answers in Genesis, who are so committed to a superficial literalism that they believe their god created the world in precisely 6 days. Of course, to them, God is MALE. It says so in the Bible. So now they’ve published a twisty little essay justifying the fact that God is a man, baby. What this silly theology boils down to is this:

God uses male pronouns, therefore he is male. Well, that sure was easy!

The pronouns and verbs used in the Bible to describe God are always masculine, as are most of the nouns and images (Lord, King, Redeemer, Father, husband):

The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ (Numbers 14:18)

Our Redeemer—the Lord of hosts is his name— is the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 47:4)

For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of armies; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth. (Isaiah 54:5)

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9)

Jesus said…I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.” (John 20:17).

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named (Ephesians 3:14–15)

he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, (1 Timothy 6:15)

Well, that’s easy. It’s probably sacrilegious to ponder the length of God’s penis, or his sperm count, or his testosterone levels, so let us respect his privacy and avoid all the discussion of genitals, or which restroom he’s allowed to use when he urinates. I hope AiG applies the same courtesy to their fellow humans.

I do have to note that the essay does briefly nod at the idea that their god’s masculinity is a metaphor, and that most scholars agree with that, but only to immediately dismiss it on the authority of someone named John C. P. Smith. AiG is not going to tolerate any weakening of the literal language of the Bible!

Some may argue that it is true that God is presented as male but that this is only metaphorical language used to describe God’s character. Even though the modern scholarly consensus seems to suggest this latter view is correct, it is by no means a unanimous view. Pastor and Old Testament scholar John C. P. Smith gives several good reasons to think this is not the case: (1) God consistently and repeatedly represents himself as male making a deliberate assertion about his nature; (2) The presentation of God as male throughout the Bible is ubiquitous and supports the notion that his maleness is a reality and not a metaphor; and (3) the term Father is not simply one metaphor among others in the Bible: it is what God in actuality is for his worshippers.

Note, of course, that god’s masculinity is entirely a product of what words he chooses to use to describe himself, which seems fair. You might wonder who John C. P. Smith is — I never heard of him, but he’s a pastor in the UK who writes articles for — you guessed it — Answers in Genesis. He’s not a guy who was privileged to peek under God’s robes.

Comments

  1. fusilier says

    In the early 1960s, I asked innocent questions of the nuns, since the Catechism told us that (I paraphrase), Man is in the image and likeness of God and that image is chiefly in the spirit. The clear implication is that “some” of that likeness is physical.

    I got sent to the pastor, who basically told me to quit pulling their chains and let him get on with his golfing.

    fusilier

    James 2:24

  2. raven says

    …to use the usual TERFy arguments, does “he” have a penis?

    Why does god even need a penis?

    .1. He is a powerful invisible supernatural being.
    I’m having a hard time imagining that he is drinking water, eating food, making urea, filtering it through his kidneys, and passing the waste liquid known as urine through his bladder and urethra.
    Does god urinate?

    .2. So who is god having sex with anyway?
    I realize that penises can do other things beside urinate.
    AFAWK, god only had sex once with Mary, and the penis substitute was an invisible mobile penis equivalent known as the Holy Ghost. She didn’t even realize it had happened until the Holy Ghost told her.

    It can’t be with other gods because supposedly, there aren’t any.

    PS Strangely enough, god once did have a wife, Asherah. The writers of the bible took her away.
    Which means the god of the bible can’t be very powerful if a few humans with pens can take his wife away and make her an unperson.

  3. anat says

    raven @2: Yahweh had another wife later on, Wisdom (AKA Sophia). She gets to speak two whole chapters, Job 28 and Proverbs 8.

  4. naturalistguy says

    According to Lewis Wolpert, the human female body plan is the default, and it’s human males that aren’t. So I’ll worship Mother Nature, thank you very much. ;-)

  5. Tethys says

    There are many references to apparent hermaphrodites and the underlying feminine power of creation itself in the original written works, that have been edited and reworked to form the bible.

    This is the reason why incorruptibility looked down into the region, so that, by the father’s will, she might bring all into union with the light.

    The rulers laid plans and said, “Come, let us create a human that will be soil from the earth.” They modeled their creature as one wholly of the earth.

    The rulers have bodies that are both female and male, and faces that are the faces of beasts. They took some soil from the earth and modeled their man, after their body and after the image of god that had appeared to them in the waters.

    The same passage refers to the ruler who proclaimed himself God as Samael, or God of the blind.

    Quote from Hypostasis of the Archons. Nag Hammadi

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    Definitely male. He’s a deadbeat dad who ditched his wife (Asherah) and disowned their kids.

    It seems almost certain that the God of the Jews evolved gradually from the Canaanite El, who was in all likelihood the “God of Abraham”… If El was the high God of Abraham—Elohim, the prototype of Yahveh—Asherah was his wife, and there are archaeological indications that she was perceived as such before she was in effect “divorced” in the context of emerging Judaism of the 7th century BCE.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_(deity)#Hebrew_Bible

  7. Cutty Snark says

    Surely, were one to adopt a Pascalian-ish view, it would be unwise to make strong pronouncements on the topic for fear of offering offense to such a powerful being.

    One potential solution could be that – if ever one is in the position of addressing God – one should merely adopt God’s preferred pronouns.

    Now if only one could apply this methodology to our fellow human beings – but it seems that there is no end to the number of people willing to assure me that such an approach would be impossible. So instead, sadly we must continue to rely on the customary full medical background check and thorough physical examination before using any gendered pronouns – as, of course, we have always done.

  8. Bruce says

    The implication is that anti-trans religious extremists want to have some physical verification of “gender”, and would not take even god at his or her word. So when they meet someone at church, do they demand full exposure, or do they routinely grab every man and woman by the genitals for a check? Most people wouldn’t stick around in any church that made it clear it wanted to have either of these policies. Such a church seems less consensual than even some sort of weird swingers club, where everyone who turns up is presumed to consent to abuse. Thinking about the actual views of such extreme fundamentalists is disturbing. Yet the alternative would be to take god and everyone else at their word about their sexual identity, and to avoid needless inspections and needless groping. So, what do they really want to do?

  9. blf says

    Of course pronouns make teh magic sky faeries ! It’s magic. Like saying someone’s name, or having one of their toenail clippings, or shouting “ugga-bugga!” the requisite number of times whilst performing a complicated maneuver that ties oneself into a knot, whatever one deludes then becomes true, with flashing lights and, if one is lucky, a padded cell and competent lawyer.

  10. says

    Don’t worry, the gender critters have repeatedly assured me that the gender critters indeed do not have any pronouns. It is only trans folks and “handmaids”* like me who have nasty pronouns.

    *Yes, I know. They simultaneously believe that
    – The Handmaid’s Tale reassures their beliefs, despite the book itself and the repeated comments of its author on the matter
    AND
    – The handmaids are the villains in the book

    +++
    Well, apparently god is also English…

    For your husband is your Maker

    I am pretty sure he’s not. For one thing, I know my dad…

  11. says

    In Exodus 33, God shows Moses his backside, in what is known as the Divine Mooning. Also, of course, in Genesis he walks in the garden. So he definitely has a body. The genitalia, however, are nowhere described.

  12. Cutty Snark says

    Giliell @ 12

    That would seem to be akin to reading “Pride and Prejudice” and concluding that not only are rigid social structures good and important, but also that Elizabeth Bennet was the antagonist…

    …the mind it does boggle.

  13. christoph says

    I read a story where one of the characters used the expletive “Jesus Motherfucking Christ” in front of a holy person, then immediately apologized. The holy person said, “No need to apologize. Great religious truths are often first perceived as blasphemies.”

  14. says

    (1) If Yahweh is male, doesn’t that sort of imply that he has a mother? And if so, can’t She call him in for dinner (and homework!) and tell HIm to leave us alone?

    (2) I’m always amused by the “male pronoun” argument because it omits something critical: What has been transmitted to us by and through fallible (sinner!) humans and their own assumptions looks like male pronouns. That’s not the same thing as direct evidence of use. We haven’t actually seen Yahweh interviewed on The 700 Club (for one things, too many of the interviewers think they’re the divinity) and listened to him responding to questions — not even questions that include male presumptions in the question. And then they’d have to translate from (depending on which version showed up) ancient Hebrew, or perhaps Aramaic, for the home audience…

  15. Pierce R. Butler says

    Rob Grigjanis @ # 6 (citing Wikipffft): … the God of the Jews evolved gradually from the Canaanite El…

    Said “evolution” also apparently included getting mashed-up with the Negev Desert war god Yahweh, perhaps contributing to the permanent split-up with Asherah (and the intra- ancient-Jewish conflict between the priesthood of the Temple and the decentralized worshipers gathering at “the high places”, still a hot issue as many of the Testamentary texts were finalized).

    The whole process resulted in one very grouchy hyper-Patriarch, with a still-unexplained foreskin fetish.

  16. billyum says

    Well, while we are doing exegesis on the gender, if any, of Godx, we do not have to rely upon pronouns. To quote the creation myth:

    “So God created man in his owne Image, in the Image of God created hee him; male and female created hee them.”

    There we have it: male and female. Godx is a hermaphrodite.

    Thus I refute the fundamentalists.

  17. dstatton says

    Can AiG explain why God had to “rest” on the seventh day? OK, creating heaven and earth and everything else is a big job, but he’s the Almighty for Christ’s sake!

  18. jacksprocket says

    But is he a real kick- arse male? Does he have more serotonin than a big bad lobster?

  19. birgerjohansson says

    Not only is Zod a hermaprodite, the trinity is a small colony organism. It can expel and reabsorb small parts of itself, and is apparently self-replicating its component parts achieving immortality.

    But the really neat trick is the telepathic transfer of nutrition as its human Renfields perform communion, making the organism independent of the need to forage for food.

  20. says

    Some philosopher once said, “Man does not define God, God defines Man.” So there. But if that is so, a better definition for God is “God is what happens; divinity is what we do that.”

    Also, as we are becoming more informed by science about the number of Earth-like planets in the Universe that may harbor evolved intelligent life, I want the philosophers to tell me whether Jesus is the savior of souls on other planets. Or is his mercy only good for Earth’s sinners? And if that is so, does it not limit Jesus? And that is exactly the problem of biting into the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. If, in fact, it was an apple, which it probably wasn’t…

  21. jrkrideau says

    I wonder what happens in other languages where gender may be reflected differently. If I remember correctly in French one says “Sa Majesté le roi.” Transexual?

  22. jacksprocket says

    “whether Jesus is the savior of souls on other planets”
    Asking that’s what Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for.

  23. anat says

    dstatton @19 – Many Jews view this not as God ‘having to’ rest, but God deciding to do so in order to make the Sabbath holy.

    OTOH Thomas Römer says that it parallels the Enuma elish creation story, which ends with Marduch creating his own temple, the special place where Marduch is worshipped. So in the Jewish version Yahweh completes his work as creator by creating the Sabbath, the special time in which Yahweh is worshipped.

  24. nomdeplume says

    It never seems to occur to the morons at AiG that the bible was written by male humans not by their imaginary friend.

  25. alkisvonidas says

    jrkrideau @23. Nope, it’s just that the noun “majesté” (majesty) is of feminine (grammatical) gender – every noun and adjective in French has either masculine or feminine grammatical gender, which has little to do with physical sex or personal gender. Compare “his/her majesty” in English; other gendered languages have expressions that translate to “the majesty of him/her”.

    In fact, this is the most plausible explanation for God’s “gender”: I don’t know if Hebrew is gendered, but if so, ‘God’ had to have some gender, and masculine was overwhelmingly the default. But even this is probably overkill, as the idea of God at the time was crudely anthropomorphic, only becoming this abstract notion of a Creator God in Christian theology, after much influence from Greek philosophical thought.

  26. Rich Woods says

    If I may summarise: it’s all bollocks.

    Ah, crap. Maybe that doesn’t help after all. What a twat.

  27. Tethys says

    English lost its gendering, though it originally has three just like German. It mostly uses the neuter pronouns, though it would be handy to have one word for a plural he, and a plural she in addition to they/ them/their of the neuter usage.

    Hebrew has two genders. M or F. Apparently everything is inflected.

    Ancient Greek had four genders. Modern Greek has three. I am certain that trying to translate accurately between languages that have entirely different concepts of gender is difficult.

  28. wzrd1 says

    Obviously, there would not be gender checks, as monarchs don’t share restrooms with commoners or subordinate royalty.
    So, there’d only be a single godroom, with a singular throne, much like our own home Necessary. ;)

  29. cartomancer says

    Pronouns I get, but gendered verbs? Do verbs somehow have gender in Aramaic? They certainly don’t in ancient Greek…

  30. kenbakermn says

    In the weird fantasy novel “Towing Jehovah” by James K. Marrow, God has died and is floating in the ocean. He is described as being two miles long. That would make his schlong* about 120 to 130 yard long and maybe 25 to 30 yards across.

    *Sorry to be juvenile but I think that word is hysterical.

  31. says

    I wonder how the anatomical basis for feeling relates to the gendering of language? Non-literal language often (always?) has a anatomical or sensory component. “Something smells fishy” and “giving a hand” are 2 examples I use a lot. The suffering associated with modern use and my political experience makes it difficult for me to think about this one.

  32. Tethys says

    Cartomancer

    Pronouns I get, but gendered verbs? Do verbs somehow have gender in Aramaic? They certainly don’t in ancient Greek…

    Apparently Aramaic does have gendered verbs, as does the closely related Hebrew.

    I’ve no idea how Greek gender works, but in most European languages you inflect the verb to agree with the gender of the gendered noun. La Niña esta pequeña. El Niño es pequeño.

    It’s even more confusing when you have three genders, and nobody agrees on the genders of various nouns.

  33. bcw bcw says

    Nevermind original sin, other than the noncontact contact with Mary, God is the original INCEL.

    No one has brought up the problem of the sex, gender and morphology of the angels yet….

  34. alkisvonidas says

    Tethys @29:

    Ancient Greek had four genders.

    That’s news to me. Is it possible you’re confusing the dual number (for pairs) with a fourth gender?

    cartomancer @ 31:

    Pronouns I get, but gendered verbs? Do verbs somehow have gender in Aramaic? They certainly don’t in ancient Greek

    Not in Greek, but they do, for example, in Polish. At least in the past tense.

    Also, pronouns usually follow “personal” gender, which is different from “grammatical” gender. In most languages I know of, personal and grammatical gender coincide for people*, but not for animals, plants or inanimate objects. For me, as a native speaker of Greek, ungendered languages such as English come natural enough, but gendered languages where noun genders fall differently feel weird.

    almost; e.g., “girl” is in the neuter gender in modern Greek

  35. Allison says

    Ancient Greek had four genders. Modern Greek has three.

    When I was learning ancient Greek in college, they only talked about the usual three: masculine, feminine, and neuter, inherited from proto-Indo-European. What was the fourth?

    Also, pronouns usually follow “personal” gender, which is different from “grammatical” gender.

    Not always. In German, at least, certain suffixes automatically make the noun neuter; most of the diminuitives do that. For example, the usual word for girl is neuter, because of the -chen ending. When I was living in Germany, I noticed that sometimes they would use pronouns with the “natural” gender and sometimes the grammatical gender. I gather, though, that at least in the 19th century, the pronouns would use the grammatical gender. Grimm’s fairy tales, for instance, consistently use the neuter pronoun when referring to a “Maedchen,” so you’d have the equivalent of saying “the girl climbed into the tree. When the hunter saw it, he spoke to it….” The same for inanimate objects — if the noun being used for it was feminine, then they’d use the equivalent of “she” Read Mark Twain’s essay “The awful German language.” (He’s not exaggerating, either.)

  36. Tethys says

    Alkisvonidas

    That’s news to me. Is it possible you’re confusing the dual number (for pairs) with a fourth gender?

    I claim zero expertise in Greek, but no, I do not mean the dual. The oldest Germanic languages also have the dual and instrumental cases, in addition to three genders.

    I cannot find the link that claimed four genders in Ancient Greek. It was a quick google search. According to this article Greek also had common and communal as further gender grammar categories.

    Dionysius also writes that some people add two more genders to the traditional three: a “common” gender (κοινόν, later taken into Latin as commune) and a “communal” gender (ἐπίκοινον, Latinized as promiscuum but sometimes just transliterated as epicoenum). The “common” gender is for words like “horse” (ἵππος), which can take modifiers of either gender. The “communal” gender is available for any creature to use, no matter whether it is male or female. So a “swallow” (χελιδών), for instance, will always take feminine modifiers, even if the swallow in question is male.

    .

  37. says

    In some languages social ordering can (and does) overrule ordinary gender. German is an easily-accessible example (at least, formal written German is; colloquial German is steadily eliding gender). The formal Sie turns verbs into their plural forms, even when it is literally singular in number; and when Sie is referring to a person, “proper” treatment as an antecedent magically strips all gender indicators (at least for the grammatically pedantic). Allison @38 notes a parallel issue, but das Fraeulein breaks that rule (the suffix “lein” vacillates between male and neuter grammatical gender).

    Further on, sie (note the minuscule) is also the form of the feminine singular third-person nominative and the plural third-person nominative, so perhaps becoming of higher social station makes one either plural-via-grammatical-fission or a woman.

  38. charlesanthony says

    Wouldn’t the correct theological question be “how many angels can dance on the head of God’s penis?”

  39. chrislawson says

    dstatton@19–

    God had to rest on the seventh day because of Amalgamated Creators and Deities Union rules.

  40. says

    in most European languages you inflect the verb to agree with the gender of the gendered noun. La Niña esta pequeña. El Niño es pequeño.

    I’m afraid that’s not the case; the form of the verb does depend on the gender in Hebrew, but not in Spanish. (Spanish verbs inflect for a whole lot of other things, and have dozens of different forms, but not for gender.) Es and está are forms of two different verbs, ser and estar, and which one you use has nothing to do with the gender of the subject—roughly, “ser” is usually used for properties or conditions that are more or less innate and permanent, and “estar” for temporary or circumstantial properties. It would be “la niña es pequeña”, “el niño es pequeño”. The adjective changes depending on the gender of the subject, but the verb does not.

    For what it’s worth, the past participle of the verb does inflect with the gender in Spanish when used as an adjective (él está cansado, ella está cansada), but not usually when used with auxiliary verbs to form compound tenses (él ha venido, ella ha venido).

    I think this is all true of most other Romance languages, too, but I don’t know that for sure.

  41. says

    Oops, dang it, I added that last sentence just before posting, and I shouldn’t have, because it then occurred to me that no, I’m pretty sure that isn’t all true of most other Romance languages. I don’t think most other Romance languages have two different verbs for “to be” corresponding to the Spanish ser and estar. I’m pretty sure most, if not all, other Romance language do share the characteristic that the verb doesn’t inflect for the gender of the subject, though.
    (Also, the previous comment was supposed to be directed to Tethys @35, but that was probably obvious.)

  42. Tethys says

    Aye caramba! Clearly my Spanish is getting corrupted by learning old English and Norse. (Where everything including the numbers get inflected to match the gender of the subject)

    I have wondered if the Sie/Die of Germanic works similarly to the ser/estar of Spanish.

    Sorry for weird capitalization. Battling autocorrect is an eternal battle.

  43. says

    Tethys

    I have wondered if the Sie/Die of Germanic works similarly to the ser/estar of Spanish.

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. German only has one verb (much like English) for “to be” (except for the passive form “werden”), which makes ser/estar a difficult thing for German Spanish learners, especially in the cases where you can use both, depending on your speaking intention. Spanish “la persona está amable/es amable” roughly correspond with English “the person is being friendly/is friendly”, but only has one form in German “die Person ist freundlich”.
    “Die” can either be the definite article for a single female noun (die Katze, the cat), definite article for any plural noun (die Männer / the men), or the relative pronoun for either of them (die Katze die ich sehe /the cat that I see, die Männer die ich sehe / the men who I see).
    “Sie” is the matching pronoun for “die” in the nominative AND the polite pronoun for people with whom you are on a last name basis and yes, Germans have a stick up their arse about those hierarchies and levels of respect. We even have the verbs “siezen” and “duzen”: Calling somebody “Sie” and calling somebody “du” while both refer the the second person singular (Sie can also refer to the second person plural).
    In short, it’s a hellish mess to teach.

  44. says

    cartomancer @#31

    Pronouns I get, but gendered verbs?

    Some languages, like Russian, have gendered verbs (verb forms). For example:

    “to love” — любить (lyubit’)
    “she loved” — она любила (ona lyubila)
    “he loved” — он любил (on lyubil)

    In Russian “она” means “she,” and “он” means “he.” What changes in these verb forms is the ending of the verb. The verb has a different ending based on whether it refers to a being who is either male or female.

  45. cartomancer says

    I see. Makes a certain degree of sense.

    Actually, come to think of it, even Latin has one or two verb forms that alter by gender – albeit the passive parts of the perfect system that use the perfect passive participle as their stem (e.g. amandus est “he was loved” versus amanda est “she was loved). Those didn’t spring to mind straight away though, because the gendered declination of the participial component is thanks to the participle being an adjective, and hence introduced only derivatively when they form part of a verb. So verbs in Latin still don’t conjugate differently by gender, but their stems can decline by gender in one or two cases.

  46. bcw bcw says

    @32, 33 kenbakermn:
    In the weird fantasy novel “Towing Jehovah” by James K. Marrow, God has died and is floating in the ocean. He is described as being two miles long. That would make his schlong* about 120 to 130 yard long and maybe 25 to 30 yards across.
    *Sorry to be juvenile but I think that word is hysterical.
    @33
    Susan Montgomery
    @32 How about we start calling it “Donny”?

    —-So you do realize that if you can it “Donny,” then urination would be a “Donnybrook.”

  47. maat says

    Grammatical gender does necessarily refer to sex. For instance, the ‘sea’ is neutral in English, it is masculine in Italian (il mare) and feminine in French (la mer), though quite obviously the sea does not have a dick or a vagina. And some gendered nouns function as neuter. For instance in Italian the ‘dove’ (colomba) is feminine and the ‘sparrow’ (passero) is masculine, but the same term applies to both.
    In the Bible, God the father is definitely male. To speculate on the self-identity of a non-existent being is pointless, but, as it is a human creation, its maleness can tell us something about those humans.
    In the Quran it is said that angels are pure spirit, therefore they are neither male or female. This seems however to unsettle them, because they keep coming back on the subject several times in order to prove how, in any case, angels could not possibly be ‘female’…
    Still looking for logic or consistency?
    And, by the way, still wondering if the patriarchy exists?

  48. John Morales says

    maat:

    Grammatical gender does necessarily refer to sex. For instance, the ‘sea’ is neutral in English, it is masculine in Italian (il mare) and feminine in French (la mer), though quite obviously the sea does not have a dick or a vagina.

    Using your own example, it can be either in Spanish. ‘El mar’ or ‘la mar’ both work.

    (So, no)

  49. John Morales says

    Anyway, PZ’s larger point is that, for these people, pronouns are the determinant of gender when it comes to their deity, but not when it comes to people.

  50. maat says

    John Morales
    I do need new glasses (or a larger screen)!
    My first sentence should read:
    “Grammatical gender does NOT necessarily refer to sex.”
    I don’t knowhow that happened. So annoying.
    Apologies.

  51. drsteve says

    If I’m recalling my catechism rightly, I thought it was that He needs an invisible green penis for sleeping furiously?

  52. Tethys says

    Giliell

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. German only has one verb for ‘to be’.

    .
    I was actually thinking of the formal vs informal forms of the Spanish ser/estar. My teacher never bothered to teach us the informal se and fue. I can however, properly address the pope or any royalty.
    I have noted that Spanish, German, O.N, and some O.E. have the word se as one of the many forms of to be.
    Como se dice? (How do you say?) Yo no sé! (I do not know) These are two different verbs, yet they sound exactly the same.

    German has Sie, and sie which as already noted can mean she, or that one (f) or it is the proper form of it/the, if the noun is grammatically feminine.

    Sheint die Sonne noch?
    Nein, sie est schon runtergegangen.
    Is the sun still shining? No, it has already walked under.
    (I know it means gone down, but I find the literal translation charming).
    There is es/das, and it is not rare to find se appended to the verb in some dialects.
    hamse, Kōnnse
    Then there are all the forms of one used as nonspecific pronouns(?), with indefinite articles. Ein, eine, einen, etc, which is in all Germanic languages.

    I sometimes have issues keeping my various languages from falling into each other, especially when they share a word, but use that word very differently.
    I have huge respect for anyone who can do so, and can teach it.

  53. says

    I was actually thinking of the formal vs informal forms of the Spanish ser/estar.

    There’s nothing special about ser and estar with regards to formality, either. Spanish does have formal and informal second-personal pronouns, and usted, which I gather may be analogous to the German du and Sie (I don’t know German, so I don’t know how close the analogy is*), but that has nothing in particular to do with ser and estar. (There are also corresponding familiar and formal plurals, vosotros and ustedes, but I understand that vosotros has fallen out of use or been replaced by variant forms in most of Latin America, though it’s still commonly used in Spain.)

    *It may be worth noting, though, that Spanish even has a verb, tutear, that means to address someone as , like the German verb duzen that Giliell mentions. I don’t think Spanish has a verb meaning to address someone as usted corresponding to the German siezen, though; you’d have to use a phrase like “tratar de usted”.

    Now, Spanish verbs do have second-person conjugations used only with tú and vosotros, while the formal usted and ustedes use the third-person conjugations: usted es, tú eres; ustedes son, vosotros sois. But that’s not just true of ser and estar; that’s true of all Spanish verbs. Usted habla, tú hablas; ustedes hablan, vosotros habláis.

    Como se dice? (How do you say?) Yo no sé! (I do not know) These are two different verbs, yet they sound exactly the same.

    The se in “Como se dice” isn’t a verb at all; it’s a reflexive pronoun. “Cómo se dice” could be (overly) literally translated as “how does it say itself” (this use of the reflexive in a passive sense is very common in Spanish). As it happens, though, there is a form of a different verb that sounds and is spelled like the sé in “Yo no sé”: “sé” is also the second-person imperative form of ser. I’m pretty sure, though, that the similarity between the first person present indicative “sé” of saber and the second person imperative “sé” of ser is just coincidental. That’s not the only coincidental similarity between different verb forms; “di” is both the second-person imperative form of decir, to say, and the first-person preterite of dar, to give. There may be others that aren’t coming immediately to mind.

    Interestingly, though, speaking of verbs that sound exactly the same, all the past tense forms of ser are identical to those of the verb ir, to go. “Yo fui” can mean either “I was” or “I went”. That similarity I’m pretty sure is not coincidental, but I don’t know enough about the history and development of the Spanish language to know why it turned out that way.

  54. says

    Oops, sorry, I just realized I once again made a bit of an overstatement in my last paragraph. It’s not true that all past tense forms of ser and ir are identical. They’re identical (for all persons and numbers) in the preterite (yo fui) and the imperfect subjunctive (si yo fuera/fuese), but not in the imperfect indicative (yo era, yo iba) or in compound tenses like the past perfect (yo había sido, yo había ido).

    (Incidentally, the Spanish preterite forms of ser and ir—yo fui, tú fuiste, él/ella/usted fue, nosotros fuimos, vosotros fuisteis, ellos/ellas/ustedes fueron—clearly derive from the perfect tense forms of the Latin esse, to be. So however ser and ir ended up with some of the same past tense forms in Spanish, it apparently came about through “to go” adopting some of the forms of “to be” rather than vice versa.)

  55. says

    Oops, one more correction/clarification, sorry:

    Spanish does have formal and informal second-personal pronouns, tú and usted,

    I put those in the wrong order; that sentence makes it sound like is the formal pronoun and usted is the informal—it’s the other way around; usted is the formal pronoun and is the familiar.

    Honestly, though, if your teacher never bothered to teach you the forms of the verb that go with and vosotros, that’s not too surprising. You won’t go far wrong just using usted/ustedes with everyone. The degree of familiarity you need to be able to use “tú” with someone I think may vary a bit by country and culture, but in general you’ll have to know someone pretty well before you can address them as “tú”, and by the time you’re on such close terms with a Spanish speaker, chances are you’ll have picked up enough of the language to have gone beyond what you learned in school and learned the second-person forms anyway.

    (Well… okay, there may be at least one exception. You do (at least in Spain; not 100% sure it works the same way everywhere) use “tú” with children—it’s a bit odd to address a child as “usted”, even if you’ve never met them before. But again, if you’re just learning Spanish in school it’s probably a reasonable assumption that you’re not likely to be talking to many Spanish-speaking children any time soon… and even if you do, they’ll understand you if you address them as “usted”; they’ll just think it’s weird.)

  56. Tethys says

    @JSNuttall

    clearly derive from the perfect tense forms of the Latin esse, to be. So however ser and ir ended up with some of the same past tense forms in Spanish, it apparently came about through “to go” adopting some of the forms of “to be” rather than vice versa.

    My very rusty Spanish has 30 letters, and my Catalan teacher apparently taught us some archaic verb forms that are highly useful for reading Vulgar Latin.

    English has little use for royal pronouns, but one does not refer to the Queen as ‘she’.
    Her royal highness is the proper form.

    Similarly Spanish uses La Donna, the (f) esteemed lady.

    O.N. should not have a Latin component, so I guess the odd formal sentences could be part of PIE. The oldest poems in particular are much easier to translate if you have a separate word for m/f plural gendered they, or plural neuter, or specifically mixed gender.

    The Norse for is = er. It has multiple meanings, including being the masculine singular present form of the verb vesa ‘to be’.

    Hann er. He is.
    Hon es. She is.
    Ek hygg at that sé.
    I think that it is..
    Hann attí son er Ingaldr hét.
    He had a son who is called Ingaldr. The r on Ingaldr is a nominative grammatical noun ending, which is ir in accusative.

    German uses:
    er ist, he is / Sie est, she is \ es ist, it is. Plural – sie sind, they are.

    I just like reading old manuscripts in their original language. The prose is much better.

  57. says

    …I’m… not sure why you quoted that part of my post? Nothing in your post seemed to have anything to do with the bit you quoted (which was about the Spanish verbs for “to go” and “to be” sharing some past tense forms).

    My very rusty Spanish has 30 letters

    The Spanish alphabet is generally considered to have 27 letters—the same letters as English, plus ñ. Formerly, the Real Academia Española considered ch and ll to be separate letters, which would make 29, but as of 2010 this is no longer the case. Some sources may have also counted rr as a separate letter, which would have made 30, but as far as I know that was never endorsed by any official body or publication.

    Similarly Spanish uses La Donna, the (f) esteemed lady.

    “Donna” isn’t a word in Spanish; are you thinking of Italian? The Spanish cognate is “Dueña”, but that’s not usually used to address the Queen; I think she’d be addressed as “Su Majestad”. Certainly similar honorifics do exist in Spanish, however; in fact, the Spanish formal “you”, “usted”, originated as a shortening of the honorific “vuestra merced”—”your mercy”—that sort of turned into its own word.

    I do agree with you, though, that it seems likely the concept of distinct formal and informal second-person pronouns has its roots in some form in Proto-Indo-European, since it’s found in both Romance and Germanic languages. (Even English had thou and thee, which in some stages of the language’s development were used as informal second-person pronouns.) Slavic languages, too, have formal and familiar versions of “you”—at least Russian and Polish do; not sure about the rest—and so does Hindi, and so does at least Welsh among the Celtic languages (though not Irish), so this distinction is represented in at least five major branches of Indo-European languages.

    Hm… according to Wikipedia (I know, not necessarily the most reliable source, but at least it’s a starting point), this is called the “T-V distinction”; the Wikipedia article gives an overview of its use in different languages, but doesn’t seem to say much about its origins or its possible use in Proto-Indo-European. (I’d provide a link, but I’m not sure whether that would get the comment held up in moderation; the article can be found easily enough by searching Wikipedia for “T-V distinction”, anyway.)

  58. John Morales says

    [off-topic, obs]

    JSNuttall, your erudition at Spanish is evident to me.

    [anecdote]

    In my first year of primary school, after two years in Australia, I was “assigned” to another lad from Uruguay who spoke very little English; I was bemused that he spoke oddly to my ears (I’d grown up in Madrid). He would say ‘vos’, and call the school ‘liceo’ (he said ‘liseo’), and other such archaisms.

  59. leerudolph says

    Clearly the most important unanswered question is, does God’s penis have a foreskin or not? And if it used to, but doesn’t now, who performed the bris, and precisely when?

  60. Tethys says

    I see that the Spanish alphabet that I memorized has changed. Mine still has 30 letters and you would have to discuss the archaic bits with my Catalan teacher. I agree that it sometimes seems more Italian than Spanish. I think the idea was to be able to read and write properly, though it did make for some comical attempts to understand what my Mexican work crew meant at times. It’s also a bit different from Puerto Rican Spanish in terms of mutual intelligibility. Perhaps the Portuguese influence?

    After awhile I just ignore spelling and try to recognize the root word plus the various ways they get modified. To my eyes, Old English looks like really messed up German, but uses differently spelled versions of the same pronouns. (And old Saxon is illiterate pirate-speak).

  61. says

    I see that the Spanish alphabet that I memorized has changed. Mine still has 30 letters and you would have to discuss the archaic bits with my Catalan teacher.

    Okay, you keep mentioning your “Catalan teacher”… do you mean a teacher who taught Catalan? Because if so, Catalan isn’t Spanish. It’s a Romance language, and it’s related to Spanish, but in the same way that Portuguese is related to Spanish; they’re very much separate languages. That might explain some of your confusion about the Spanish language…

    (I’m also not sure what you mean about the “archaic bits”… what “archaic bits” are you talking about? The “se” and “fue” you mentioned aren’t archaic forms; “fue” is just a past tense form of ser (or ir), while “se” without an accent is, as mentioned, not a verb at all in the context in which you used it, but a reflexive pronoun.)

    JSNuttall, your erudition at Spanish is evident to me.

    Oh, I’m definitely not an expert, and I’m not trying to pretend to be; I lived in Spain for two years, and I can speak the language, but I certainly don’t have the fluency of a native speaker. Nothing I’ve posted here about Spanish is particularly obscure or shows any especial erudition; I think most of what I’ve posted would be known to anyone reasonably fluent in the language..

  62. Tethys says

    @JSNuttall

    My Spanish teacher is from Catalan. What I was taught is Castillian. Some of it was useful for speaking Spanish conversationally, but Mexican Spanish uses a lot of idiom that made no sense to me. I pretend no great expertise in speaking it, pero mi accente esta perfecté! ;)

    I’ve not used Spanish on a daily basis for nearly 20 years. It’s very rusty, and I only recently discovered that I can use it to read vulgar Latin. Saxons apparently sounded “de ne chiendo” to some priest back in the 7th century. (I have probably spelled that wrong but it was a hilarious and unexpected thing to read).

    My original point was that es,er, and se are forms of ‘to be’. Is,am, are, was, and were are the only forms retained by English, because unlike other Germanic languages, we do not inflect our verbs and adjectives for gender anymore.

    Old Norse has 12 different forms just for the word ‘they’ depending on gender and case. Spanish is much simpler in the pronoun and gendering aspects.

  63. says

    Tethys
    I think you’re getting a lot of things mixed up. Let me try to clear them up.

    I was actually thinking of the formal vs informal forms of the Spanish ser/estar. My teacher never bothered to teach us the informal se and fue. I can however, properly address the pope or any royalty.

    The formal/informal divide in Spanish has nothing to do with ser and estar. The formal pronoun is usted (singular) and ustedes (plural), and they get used with the third person conjugation of whatever verb. Except in Latin America, where not only mots varieties have dropped the second person plural and adopted the third person plural for formal and informal, which nobody taught to me in university and which confused the hell out of me when interacting with people from the Américas. And then you get the voseo, which is a whole different kettle of fish again.

    I have noted that Spanish, German, O.N, and some O.E. have the word se as one of the many forms of to be.
    Como se dice? (How do you say?) Yo no sé! (I do not know) These are two different verbs, yet they sound exactly the same.

    Hold your horses!
    The “se” in ?Cómo se dice? is NOT a verb. It’s the third person reflexive pronoun. It’s an impersonal construction, sometimes called “reflexive passive”. The closest German equivalent would be “Wie sagt man das?” (Note that Spanish omits a lot of pronouns. Since the form of the verb already indicated the person, why bother?) English doesn’t have a handy impersonal construction and you got to either use the passive (How is it called?) or in declarative sentences use something like “people say” (se dice…) The verb in that first sentence is “decir”. The sé in the second sentence is a form of “saber”, to know.

    There is es/das, and it is not rare to find se appended to the verb in some dialects.
    hamse, Kōnnse

    The “se” here is the formal “Sie”, not “das/es” hamse = haben Sie (have you). In some dialects that works with all pronouns. For mine it would be “Kannisch/Kanschde/Kanna” = Kann ich, kannst du, kann er (Can I, …)

    I sometimes have issues keeping my various languages from falling into each other, especially when they share a word, but use that word very differently.

    I know. I can understand French perfectly fine and then answer in correct Spanish

    er ist, he is / Sie est, she is \ es ist, it is. Plural – sie sind, they are.

    sie ist. The forms are identical for all three pronouns. German may be crazy, but not crazy enough for gendered verbs.

    It’s also a bit different from Puerto Rican Spanish in terms of mutual intelligibility. Perhaps the Portuguese influence?

    The different varieties of Spanish lead to no end of funny misunderstandings. I was once at a congress in Venezuela which provided simultaneous translation, which I didn’t need, but a some point my Venezuelan colleague said “Giliell, you better get yourself an ear piece for translation, because now the Cubans are speaking, and I never understand a word of what they’re saying”.
    There are some notable varieties between peninsular Spanish and Latin American Spanish and within Latin America itself. Some of those depend of geography (you can find differences in pronunciation depending on whether someone lives by the sea or in the mountains regardless of country), on the region (the “Cono Sur” with Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay has many distinctive features, like the voseo, which are mainly older forms. They were the furthest removed and thus least in contact with the “motherland” so the newly fangled things like “tú” didn’t take hold), but also the history. For example, Cuba was the last colony to become independent. Therefore they use some words like Spain does, but not the rest of Latin America. The best example is the verb “coger”, which is completely neutral in Spain and Cuba and means “to take”. In the rest of Latin America it means “to take/fuck (a woman)”. Add in the word “guagua” which means “bus” in Cuba and the Canary islands but “baby” in most of Latin America and you get the Cuban professor teaching in México who shocks his students by announcing “Vamos a coger una guagua!”
    Uhm, did I mention that varieties of Spanish were my final subject in university?

    JSNuttall

    “Donna” isn’t a word in Spanish; are you thinking of Italian? The Spanish cognate is “Dueña”, but that’s not usually used to address the Queen; I think she’d be addressed as “Su Majestad”. Certainly similar honorifics do exist in Spanish, however; in fact, the Spanish formal “you”, “usted”, originated as a shortening of the honorific “vuestra merced”—”your mercy”—that sort of turned into its own word.

    There is “doña” as an indicator of respect, which is notably used with the first name and a bit old fashioned. To be polite one can address somebody as “doña Mercedes”.

    John Morales

    He would say ‘vos’, and call the school ‘liceo’ (he said ‘liseo’), and other such archaisms.

    That’s not an archaism, but a variety. And it is profoundly funny how people can still insist that pronouncing the “c” like a “th” is the “proper form” when 90% of speakers use the seseo.

  64. leerudolph says

    JSNuttall@63: “The Spanish alphabet is generally considered to have 27 letters”. At one point I owned a dictionary of Spanish published in Mexico (paperback, not a recognizable brand to me) that also counted the digraph “tl” as a letter (or grapheme, I guess?). As I recall, the only word for which that was noticeable was “tlapalería” (because the “tl” was initial; I suppose that the publisher’s lexicographers, if asked how many letters are in the word “axolotl”, would have said six, but purely on the printed evidence one would no way to be sure).

  65. John Morales says

    ‘a be ce che de e efe ge hache i jota ka ele elle eme ene eñe o pe cu erre ese te uve uve doble equis y griega zeta’ is what I learnt at school.

  66. yssander says

    Can AiG explain why God had to “rest” on the seventh day? OK, creating heaven and earth and everything else is a big job, but he’s the Almighty for Christ’s sake!

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