Bra is short for brassiere (a French word), but a bra is actually un soutien gorge (which roughly translates to "a sustainer of the neck.") It also has a masculine indefinite article, which makes no sense, because we all know that man breasts are no fun. Likewise, a woman's blouse is un chemisier (masculine), whereas a man's dress shirt is une chemise (feminine).
To be fair, Spanish has much of the same gender confusion with these words: un sostén (meaning "sustainer" for bra) and un camisa (a man's dress shirt). But at least the word for blouse, una blusa, usually matches the wearer's gender.
I remembered these things when I ran across this David Sedaris spoken essay on NPR's Web site. It was done in 2000, right after the publication of "Me Talk Pretty One Day." I couldn't help but laugh as I listened to him talk about his own struggle with using the proper gender, and the fact that a vagina is masculine and the word masculine is actually feminine.
'Have you seen my wallet? I can't find her anywhere.'This language lesson is brought to you by the often-misused adverb "presently" and the letters ç, é, and ñ.
In the second part of a series on life in Paris, commentator David Sedaris struggles to master the gender of French nouns, and in the process, learns some interesting things about the French language.