DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am familiar with the attempts to come up with an agreed-upon word that English speakers can use as a gender-neutral, third-person singular pronoun, and I had wondered whether people are also trying to come up with a gender-neutral title and term of address.
When I was sending a comment to one of my senators via his website, I noticed Mx. was one of the prefix (title) options. (According to an online dictionary, it is pronounced “mix.”) Is Mx. sufficiently codified, or do you have an alternative that you recommend instead?
I know that Ms. is the title to use if you know you are addressing a woman but don’t know if she prefers another title. Is it correct to use Mx. if you are addressing someone whose gender you do not know? For example, is it acceptable to address an envelope to Mx. Pat Smith? Or is it better to omit the title?
Is Mx. also the gender-neutral term of address, equivalent to “sir” and “ma’am”? If not, what is?
Ms. happens to be my preferred title, and I remember when it came into everyday use. Your explanation of the proper use of Mx. (or whatever the codified term turns out to be) may help it to be adopted more quickly and easily than Ms. was.
GENTLE READER: Having lost the battle with the pronoun “they” – she is absolutely in favor of its neutrality, just not its confusing grammatical ramifications – Miss Manners is going to be brave enough to try again, and proclaim her endorsement of Mx., or perhaps just M., as the French have sometimes done. It can be used in formal business settings and written correspondence where first names may or may not be needed.
However, she does not recommend addressing anyone, of any gender, face to face, as Mmmmmm.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a foreign-born American who came to this country decades ago and who speaks English with only a slight accent. Although I am proud of my heritage, the United States has long been my home, and I am a full-fledged citizen of this country.
I have begun working as a customer service representative dealing with a number of people by phone, and although I love my job, my accent has led to a number of awkward situations.
Occasionally, people will politely ask where I was born and I will tell them, then steer them back to the matter at hand. Other times, however, some will assume that I am speaking to them from a foreign country, which I am not, and make nationalistic remarks that are disturbing. Even worse is when I’m blatantly told that they’d prefer to speak to another representative “who is an American,” though that is my nationality.
I understand that “the customer is always right,” but how do I do my job and reply to impolite remarks that question my background and abilities, particularly when I’m generally speaking better English than the person that I am talking to?
GENTLE READER: “I am so sorry, it sounded as if you said you thought that I was not American? I could not quite understand your English.”
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com.
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