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.