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I can understand that some German nouns (e.g. Mädchen) might just always have been whatever gender the noun is, and the explaintion is lost to the mists of time. But Bikinis were invented in the 1940s. So why is it "der Bikini"? Why is bikini a male noun in German? Surely "die Bikini" makes much more sense!

Was there some meeting where they added Bikini to the German language/dictionary, and they decided it would be a masculine noun?

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Maybe, because it is a kind of Badeanzug (= der Badeanzug). –  knut Mar 2 at 20:33
Another idea: In French it is 'le bikini' (also male). Maybe it is taken from there and the question is: Why is bikini male in French? –  knut Mar 2 at 20:51
No. They made it male because "die Badehose" for men was female already. Two females are one too many. Seriously, like most of the time the answer here is "it is what it is" - in many cases it does not make sense to ponder about the gender of nouns in the German language. Learn them along with the meaning and you're fine. –  Thorsten Dittmar Mar 2 at 20:51
I know often it just is, and we cannot know. But Bikini, being a recent invention, I thought there'd be more details available. –  Rory Mar 2 at 20:59
Why was this downvoted? Just because a central premise of the question (garments for females should be grammatically female) turned out to be debatable does not mean that it was not a justified assumption. –  Wrzlprmft Mar 3 at 10:37
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3 Answers 3

First of all, there is no clear scheme after which the genders of loanwords are determined (see also this question). Even with words that are in the process of being loaned right now, native speakers find it hard to agree on the gender (e.g., I have seen any gender for Blog) and even if they do, it’s hard to pinpoint the reason.

But let’s have a look at Bikini:

  • When Bikini was loaned, the closest existing word was der Badeanzug. Therefore it is likely that its gender was either directly adopted or is a remnant of the composite Bikini-Badeanzug, which might have been used when the word was new and not well-known.

  • You claim that die Bikini would make more sense. But there is no reason why something that is predominantly worn by women should be of female grammitical gender (consider also, e.g., der Rock, das Kleid, die Krawatte). Given, it is associated with women for this reason, but it is not associated as a women.

    As a contrasting example: My intuition often disagrees with some old household devices (whose name did not come with a clear preference for grammatical gender) being regarded as grammatically female (e.g., die Moulinex). I would hypothesise that this is because they performed what was considered women’s work at the time of their invention and therefore were associated as women.

  • Finally speaking of what makes sense, giving a garment for women a grammatical gender other than female actually has one advantage: One of the advantages of grammatical gender is that it may clarify to which word a pronoun relates, e.g.:

    Meine Schwester trug einen blauen Bikini. Er sah grauenvoll aus.
    Meine Schwester trug einen blauen Bikini. Sie sah grauenvoll aus.

    These sentences are only disambiguous, because the grammatical gender of Bikini is not female. Since female is almost certainly the predominant grammatical gender among words appearing together with garments for women, making giving garments for women grammatically female is most prone to cause ambiguities.

    However, I am rather sure that such thoughts never influenced the choice of grammatical genders.

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Wie bestimmt man denn den nächstliegenden existierenden Ausdruck? Wieso nicht der BH, der Schlüpfer, die Unterhose, die Unterwäsche, die Bademode, die Badehose usw.? Wo gibt es denn die Regel, dass existierende Begriffe die der Sache nahekommen ihr Geschlecht verleihen? Gibt es dafür erwiesene Beispiele? 2.: Was ist denn die Moulinex? Ich habe eine Braun (Küchenmaschine) und einen Braun (Elektrorasierer). 3.: Schönes Beispiel, aber wie Du selbst schreibst kaum vorstellbar, dass dies die Sprecher beeinflusst hat. "Der Mann schenkte ihr einen Bikini. Er sah grauenvoll aus." :) Richtig ist 2a). –  user unknown Mar 3 at 3:52
@userunknown: Es gibt keine feste Regel, dass naheliegende Dinge das Geschlecht einem Fremdwort das Geschlecht verleihen und ebensowenig eine eindeutige Methode das nächstliegende Ding zu bestimmen. Es gibt aber eine Tendenz, das Geschlecht danach auszuwählen, wenn es keine anderen Kriterien (Wortendung, usw.) gibt – und mehr habe ich auch nicht behauptet. 2. Ein Mixer (oder etwas Ähnliches) der Firma Moulinex – und bevor sich jemand beschwert: Es ist nicht meine Idee, die Dinger mit dem Firmennamen zu bezeichnen. –  Wrzlprmft Mar 3 at 9:45
Den nächst liegenden existierenden Ausdruck bestimmt man nach der Art des Gegenstandes. Die Moulinex ist eine (Die Maschine) Der Braun ist ein (Der Rasier) Aber warum es der Rasierer heist? Wahrscheinlich weil früher Männer andere Männer rasiert haben. Der Friseur, die Frisöse. –  DisplayName Mar 3 at 15:05
@DisplayName: Der Rasierer ist wie alle derartigen Tätigkeitsbezeichnungen (Maurer, Verkäufer, Henker, …) grammatikalisch männlich. Da braucht es keine gegenstandsspezifische Historie. –  Wrzlprmft Mar 4 at 9:58
@DisplayName: Die Antwort "nach Art des Gegenstandes" hilft nicht weiter, weil viele Gegenstände vielgestaltig sind. Walnuss kann als Frucht und als Holz aufgefasst werden, als Farbe, als Baum, usw. Mit unterschiedlichen Bezeichnungen kommen aber unterschiedliche Geschlechter, selbst für sehr ähnliche Dinge, etwa die Bank aber das Kreditinstitut, oder der Laden, das Kaufhaus, Die Moulinexmaschine ist übrigens mit großer Sicherheit auch ein Apparat, alias Gerät. Du musst nicht nur versuchen Deine Ideen zu belegen, sondern vor allem zu widerlegen. –  user unknown Mar 6 at 4:59
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I just tried thinking about "Die Bikini" and it just hurts. Same if you think about "der Kappe".

But we have "Die Hose" und "Der Hut."

Wir haben Anzug, Badeanzug und Badehose. Die Hose = Die Badehose Der Anzug, Der Badeanzug, Bikini, der Badeanzug mit weniger Stoff für Frauen.

Aber die Bikinihose das Bikinihöschen und das Bikini - Oberteil. Aber "Der BH".

Das Teil -> Das Oberteil Die Hose -> Die Bikinihose

So I'd say it inherited the gender from the closest existing thing which is "Der Badeanzug" Which again is a compound word with "Der Zug."

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Well, German is a weird Language sometimes:

Der Junge


Das Mädchen

why the article was changed from "Die Maid" (f) into "Das Mädchen" (n), I don't know.

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Because the dimunitives on -chen and -lein are always grammatically neutral: der Mann – das Männchen; der Baum – das Bäumchen; die Frau – das Fräulein; die Ente – das Entchen; … Anyway: this hardly answers the question. –  Wrzlprmft Mar 5 at 10:16
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