While the EU’s political heavyweights are scrambling to find a common position ahead of talks with Britain about its departure from the bloc, an obscure linguistic conundrum has shed light on the scale of the task ahead.
Italy, it’s emerged, is the only state in the bloc that considers Brexit a feminine word, highlighting that even with just language, it’s difficult to find an agreed position.
Faced with a new word in their lexicons, countries have been deciding whether to give it a masculine or feminine gender.
The English, like the Greeks and Hungarians, don’t assign a gender.
The Germans have adopted ‘der brexit’. The guide Duden for the German Language, says clearly that it’s a masculine noun, even if it’s an “artificial” word coming from ‘political jargon’. Before Britain voted to leave, the German media had referred instead to the B-word..
The French Academy has yet to give its verdict, but “le Brexit”, masculine has imposed as for most of the new, imported words.
Interestingly, in Dutch, which has a neutral gender, “de Brexit” is masculine, because the article “de” is masculine. Also, traditionally anglicisms are masculine.
Spanish had the choice between “el brexit” or “la brexit” — without capitals according to Fundeu — but finally masculine won the day. In Portugal is “Lo Brexit”, is also masculine. That’s despite in both Iberian languages the word “exit” is feminine – “salida” and “saída”.
Outside the EU, we’ve asked our Russian and Ukrainian colleagues: the gender is masculine because the word “exit” in their languages “Выход”, “ВХІД” is masculine. Turkish and Farsi languages have no gender.
Arabic uses the masculine, as for most foreign words, also because it ends on “t” not on “a”, the most common feminine termination “البريكسيت”.
The Italian exception
So why do Italians use “la Brexit”, the feminine article? It’s not entirely clear. The “Accedmia della Crusca” for the Italian Language, released in May, before the referendum, has a comprehensive 1,800 word explanation on why it should be her.
The explanation “Il Genere del Brexit” begins, bizarrely, talking about fruit salad. The author quotes academic Bruno Migliorni who described the “macedonia words” as “two or more mutilated words stacked together as a brand new word”: una o più parole maciullate sono state messe insieme con una parola intatta.
It reminds us of the origins of Brexit’s ancestor: the Grexit. He attributes the ‘creation’ to Citigroup analysts Willem Buiter and Ebrahim Rahbari who started to use to avoid repeating Greek Euro Area Exit throughout a report. Proof they are good economists?
After such a rich introduction he comes to the core of the subject: exit, “uscitta” is feminine. So it should be feminine.
Okay, the question has been answered. In the second paragraph. Why does the author need seven more paragraphs?
Well she explains – in full detail – why some Italian journalists still tend to use “il Brexit”, masculine: when using esce, the Italian for “Exits” or using Brexit as a verb instead of as a noun, quoting academics or the Oxford Dictionary to explain Brexit’s brother, or sister, “Bremain”.
The author also analyses the possibility of using a plain “Brexit”, without an article, as in English.
“As a conclusion, if I have to make a recommendation, I think it’s more appropriate to use Brexit in feminine, and use the article as for most of other events like “la perestrojka, il gobal warming”.