Another interesting aspect of grammatical gender in languages is that there seems to be no consensus on what makes a word (or object the word is referring to) either masculine, feminine, or neuter. In German, you get the curious examples of the word for “girl” being neuter – das Mädchen – and the word for “manliness” being feminine – die Männlichkeit.
Neither can even closely related languages that have gendered nouns agree amongst each other which words should belong to which gender. For example, while there are a lot of similarities in word genders in Romance languages (thanks to their common ancestry in Latin), there are also plenty of exceptions: el color, la labor in Spanish and la couleur, le labeur in French, “milk” is masculine in both Italian and Portuguese – il latte and o leite – and feminine in Spanish – la leche.
Additionally, not even native speakers can often agree on what gender particular words belong in. According to one study, native French speakers were unable to agree on appropriate genders for select words. When a group of 56 of them were asked to assign gender to some nouns, they agreed on one out of fifty feminine words. While masculine words went somewhat better, the group still only managed to agree on seventeen out of 93.
To make matters even more confusing, there are also regional differences in word genders. In different parts of the German-speaking world, the word for “yoghurt” can take all three possible genders – der Joghurt, die Joghurt, das Joghurt. There are also heated debates on whether to call the delicious jar of chocolatey goodness das Nutella or die Nutella. This arbitrary classification of words into different genders actually has rather far-reaching consequences.