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Post"Masculine But Not Fanatical"; on Spanish Gender (Henry Levin, USA, 05/22/14 6:31 am)
When I first went to Venezuela in 1970, they had a lot of jokes about Italian immigrants.
An example: An Italian arrives at immigration in La Guaira. The agent demands: "Su nombre?" The immigrant answers: "Guiseppe Pascuale." "Y, de dónde?" He answers "de Catania." Y "su sexo"? He responds: "masculino pero no muy fanático."
This is probably not politically correct in these parts, but it always got big laughs in Venezuela.
I never took a course in Spanish and had to learn it only from conversation with my wife and friends. I was always making mistakes with tense. One day I asked Pilar to explain why "programa" and "idioma" are masculine. Her first explanation was simply: "Es español." When she saw that I was still bewildered, she shouted: "Es masculino, pero no muy fanático."
That was actually quite helpful.
JE comments: This explanation works for me! A picky grammarian would add that "-ama" and "-ema" words of Greek (as opposed to Latin) origin maintain their masculinity in Spanish--but not fanatically so. Interestingly, these same words are feminine in the Slavic languages (problema, programa, etc.).