The lack of recent posts on this blog is due me going through a rather deep low at the moment. I’m exhausted (from doing nothing in particular), my concentration is spotty, and so is my short-term memory. So I read half-paragraph by half-paragraph and write one sentence fragment a time.

Even though one characteristic point of these blue phases is that nothing, by itself, will provide a comprehensive cure, this is not a reason to abstain from small attempts to do something pleasant. Which means, in the easiest case, turning to chocolate and associated products.

So this Libération article comes at the right time. We learn from it not only that Ferrero’s annual production is large enough that you could cover the equator with all the Nutella jars lined up, but also that Nutella is … left-wing. In Italy, I mean. But apparently the neo-fascists are trying to even things out a bit, and the Forza Italia guys (Berlusconi’s crowd, in case you didn’t know) are holding “Nutella parties”.

Now, I’m in France, and haven’t noticed a particular political preference neither for the icon, nor in the actual consumption. But we have other problems here, about the gender. The grammatical gender, obviously.

In French, brand names usually get their gender from the underlying product type, even if they are not typically used as modifiers (which would have to agree with the noun they modify). Thus, car brands are all feminine (la voiture)#[1]: une Ford, une Porsche, and even une Mondeo (despite the -o that points to a masculine name) and une Golf (although the noun golf, the sport, is masculine). If this method isn’t applicable, a masculine default applies.

For Nutella, there are two reasons to expect it to be feminine: the suffix -ella, which every speaker of French would expect to create a feminine-gendered diminutive, and the underlying product la pâte (à tartiner), or la crème, maybe.

Yet, Google is very clear on this: 27,000 hits for “[le | du | au] nutella” vs only 865 for the feminine form.

I wasn’t totally convinced and conducted some field research while nipping out for a bottle of milk at the Moroccan grocery store that is open on Sunday evening, with a stop at the café next door#[2]. The result wasn’t quite as clearly in favour of le Nutella, but the preference is there. Strangely enough, if Nutella is used with a partitive determiner/preposition plus definite article to denote an unspecified quantity of a specific instance of Nutella, as in « Tu veux encore du / de la Nutella ? » (”Do you want some more Nutella?”), some speakers who otherwise opted for the masculine gender preferred the feminine form.

Let’s explore this a little further. In German, you have to choose between three genders. Neutral (or masculine) default could be assumed in the absence of other criteria, but German is divided into many dialects that often have their own rules about genders and cases of inanimate nouns.

Ferrero is (sortof) helpful by saying that since “nutella [lowercase in German, it seems, like on the labels] is a fantasy name that is registered as a brand name, it is used without article in general” and that everyone can decide for themselves which article to use in case one is needed.

Personally, I say die Nutella (can’t really bring myself to write it in lowercase letters right now). It is so obviously an Anglo-Italian hybrid, and for me the suffix should determin the gender. Car brands, by the way, are masculine in German (even those that are derived from Spanish female first names).

[1]: Automobile, which was an adjective before becoming a noun, used to be admissible in the masculine (due to un véhicule automobile). Nowadays, the only feminine form is considered correct. [2]: Note to researchers: don’t ask questions in a Parisian café right the moment when Monaco scores against Paris St. Germain.