Another Reason To Be Thankful For Your Mother

Here’s another reason to add to the infinite list of reasons to be thankful for your mother:  she didn’t drop you off at Grandma’s house before suiting up, declaring her allegiance to a terrorist group, and then heading off to conduct an inexplicable massacre of innocent people.

the-empty-crib-mourning-a-miscarriageThat is the most astonishing aspect of the apparent back story of the San Bernardino shooters: one of them was a new mother who allegedly dropped her child off at her mother-in-law’s house before heading out for a murderous rampage with her husband.

People used to refer to the “maternal instinct” — the notion that there was an innate impulse, possessed by every mother, to love and fiercely guard her children.  It’s an old-fashioned concept, and probably passe in modern times, but the San Bernardino attack certainly undercuts its presumed existence.  No one with “maternal instincts” could knowingly bring explosives and weaponry into the home where she was raising an infant and then callously drop off the kid before blazing away at strangers.

President Obama, and others, frequently respond to terrorist incidents by talking about our “shared values” — as if all of the people of the world had the same perspective on things.  Of course, we don’t all have “shared values”; that’s the problem.  San Bernardino puts the lie to that concept as well.  How can we reasonably speak of “shared values” if something as fundamental as a mother’s love can be overcome by a terrorist ideology?  If we can’t trust a mother to stick with her child . . . well, what can we trust?

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Mr., Ms., Or Mx.?

Recently the New York Times used the honorific “Mx.” — pronounced “mix” — at the request of one of the subjects of an article.  “Mx.” is a gender-neutral title, and thus some transgender people, or people who would rather not be assigned a gender at all, prefer it to references like “Mr.” or “Mrs.” or “Ms.”

The Times‘ use of Mx. caused many of the current and former journalists among us — those who have had to worry about complying with Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style or the local paper’s version thereof — to wonder whether we’re on the verge of a change in how we treat courtesy titles.  The Times‘ associate masthead editor for standards says, “not so fast!”  In a piece about the issue, he says that “Mx.” isn’t in the stylebook — yet — but that the issue is an evolving one and the Times likely will change with the times.  (Pun intended.)  The article adds:  “In this as in other areas of language and usage, The Times is not looking to lead the way, set the rules or break new ground. Our hope is to reflect accepted, standard usage among educated readers.”

309863-53677-mr-mxyzptlkIs adding “Mx.” to the honorific mix (pun also intended) a big deal?  Nah.  I’m old enough to remember when newspapers added “Ms.” to the then-existing line-up of “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” and “Miss,” after women understandably objected that using titles that reflected marital status in news articles was somewhat silly.  Some wags made dire predictions about breakdowns in social order, but “Ms.” entered the lexicon and the republic survived — and now, does any newspaper ever use “Miss” to refer to an adult woman anymore?

As the Times’ style piece points out, unlike “Mr.” and “Mrs.” — and “Ms.” which was a cross of “Mrs.” and “Miss” — “Mx.” is not an abbreviation of an accepted English term.  In a way, this is a liberating development.  Why should we forever be saddled with stodgy references that gained currency during Victorian times?  In fact, why shouldn’t we be able to use honorifics that have no reference to gender at all and instead more precisely suit our immediate mood and current position in the world?  As the Times noted, some think we should move to even more ambiguous honorifics, like “xe” or “ze” — but even if you stick with terms that start with “m,” and therefore will more likely be recognized as an honorific, you’ve got a big choice.

Consider some of these options to select from:

Mo. — When you’ve just converted on a third-and-long

Me. — When you’re feeling self-centered

Max. — When you’re feeling on top of the world

Mud. — When you’ve just done something incredibly embarrassing

Mem. — When you’re a white collar worker

Mug. — When you’re in the mood for a frosty adult beverage

Mxyzptlk. — When you’re a powerful and mischievous being from the Fifth Dimension here to torment Superman for entertainment.

There’s a lot of options to throw into the mix.