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"and drawing Scalpel whistling from her sheath"

(Fritz Leiber, Swords Against Wizardry)

I was surprised to see the Mouser's blade referred to as "she". No particular reason why, I just thought the sword would be a "he" (if anything).

Are swords usually referred to by this gender in Fritz Leiber's fiction? Are there any specific instances of a male sword? Is that specific to Leiber or more general to fantasy or historical fiction?

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  • More of a linguistics question, but if you go look up the gender of the Old English word for sword, that will be the correct answer. Whether or not it's the usual answer depends on how illiterate the authors are.
    – John O
    Aug 7, 2012 at 13:14
  • Sorry, voting to close as off-topic. This may be better placed on English SE site, unless you can focus it significantly to be Swords-and-sourcery-specific. Also, it sounds like it can have too many valid answers. Aug 7, 2012 at 13:48
  • This question is tagged with leiber. Perhaps gef05 is referring to the gender of swords as written by Fritz Leiber? If so, I'd vote that this is a valid question for this site. Aug 7, 2012 at 18:44
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    After the edit, the question is undoubtedly on-topic here. However I think the answer is that Leiber did it because it's pretty common, and that would be more of a topic for English Language & Usage. Related reading: Is it a good practice to refer to countries, ships etc using the feminine form? When referring to a noun, when does the gender matter? — I didn't find anything about swords.
    – user56
    Aug 7, 2012 at 21:36
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    @JohnO: Regarding the gender; FWIW, in German it's neuter (Das Schwert). So I'd assume it's the same in Old English.
    – bitmask
    Aug 8, 2012 at 5:05

4 Answers 4

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You have several questions here.

(0) One could argue that swords are female because they are beautiful and deadly. I won't make that argument, though.

(1) I can't recall another gendered sword in Leiber. IIRC, Fafhrd's sword, Graywand, is an "it", not a "he" or a "she".

(2) Offhand, I can't think of any male swords. But I bet you could find a few in these lists:

(3) Named weapons are so common that writers play with the idea: a character in M. John Harrison's Viriconium has a "plain long sword, which, contrary to the fashion of the time, had no name". Female weapons are fairly common -- common enough that they are alluded to in the title of a TV Trope, I Call Her "Vera". Another notable female sword is Lady Vivamus in Heinlein's Glory Road.

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    Logically, the sheath is female, the sword is male.
    – user14111
    Aug 1, 2015 at 8:39
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I don't know much about the gender of swords in fiction, but I do know that swords in China at one point in time were made in pairs. One male and one female as mentioned in Susan Wardens "Life Along the Silk Road"(pgs 92-93). Having to do with Yin and Yang. Though I would imagine when writing referring to a sword in either the feminine or masculine would be fine. I'd say it just has to do with the preferance of the author.

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  • I suspect an author's preferences would come into play as well, but do you have an idea where they might generally fall?
    – Adamant
    Jul 30, 2016 at 18:17
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Well, the Latin word 'gladius' is masculine, which makes sense given the phallic nature of swords. However, in Old English and the Germanic languages, the word 'sweord' and its derivatives are neuter as indicated above. Given this I would assume that the custom is for swords to be neuter, perhaps masculine if named, and a few exceptions for those given feminine names.

For comparison: Ships are feminine. Though again the Latin word is feminine, but the Germanic word that 'ship' derives from is again neuter. Except here, ships, as a rule, are feminine.

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The only named weapons with which I'm intimately familiar are Stormbringer and Mournblade. Since they are "brother" swords, this implies that they are masculine.

Another (more lighthearted) reference of note would be The Heroine Barbarian Song, wherein Xena says

My sword is rather phallic, but my chakram's rather yonical

implying that the sword is masculine, and the chakram is feminine. Typically, humor of that sort might not be a good source, but the author sounds to my ear like a language expert.

Having said all that, Lieber's Mouser is entitled to use whatever pronoun he wants to describe his weapon. In this case, I do wonder (since Scalpel is the larger of the two blades), if Cat's Claw is also feminine (no source material at hand to research that, sorry).

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