So, most languages have gendered nouns. La table in French, der Wagen in German, dziecko in Polish. English is missing out! But we can’t just add in gendered nouns – that would introduce all kinds of back-compatibility issues. Therefore, I invoke the use-mention distinction – the difference between the sofa I’m sitting on, and the “sofa”, one of the two words meaning a soft seat in English that have Arabic origin (the other being “divan”).
We rarely mention words in English, unless we are linguists, and if we are linguists (and we aren’t), we love the use-mention distinction, and adding gender to languages that previously had no gendered nouns! Thus, I declare the following:
All mentions of English words now have the following gender: female (thef) if from a Romance language, male (them) if from a Germanic language, and neuter (then) if from any other root.
This tags each word with its rough etymology, and would be invaluable for writers of fiction: consider a bluff Norwichman whose surrounding prose is written using largely Germanic-origin English words – a fine example being them word ‘then’. We can easily signal in the prose itself the discomfort this bluff Norwichman might feel at an unpleasant turn of events by having him say them word ‘then’, but have the indirect speech use thef word ‘subsequently’ at the start of the descriptive passage where things start to go wrong.
We see similar clarity arising in thef word ‘theme’, then letter ‘theta’, them words ‘the’ and ‘them’, and indeed them words ‘thef‘, ‘then‘ and ‘them‘. Yeah, them ‘them‘ words.
I expect my Nobel Fields Trophy for Linguistics to be in the post.