Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The honorific Mx

The gender-neutral title Mx may be joining the honorifics Miss , Mr , Mrs  and Ms in the Oxford English Dictionary. OED assistant editor Jonathan Dent:

“This is an example of how the English language adapts to people’s needs, with people using language in ways that suit them rather than letting language dictate identity to them.”
Here, from The Guardian , is the most helpful article on Mx I could find. Newspaper articles referring to the “next edition” of the OED are almost certainly in error: the online OED is updated quarterly.

[See also the Swedish gender-neutral pronoun hen, which has several uses. The honorifics Mr , Mrs  and Ms appear in the OED without periods.]

comments: 9

shall said...

Finnish only has "hän" as 3rd person singular. In my list of topics to write on (long list) is a suggestion that English speakers borrow that word to solve the he/she conundrum.

I figure that since, as far as I am aware, "sauna" is the only other Finnish loan-word we have in English (unless you count the vitamin maker Sisu) it's only fair that we adopt hän. It would, of course, get changed to "han" as we have an aversion to diacritical marks.

I am, you are, hän is, he is, she is...

Unfortunately Finnish uses "he" (prounced as in 'hay' without the diphthong) as 3rd person plural but we'd probably make that "hän" as well.

Michael Leddy said...

What would you suggest for objective and genitive (possessive) forms?

shall said...

In a time that accepts "Me and Jimmy went to the game" I have no problem with "hän" and "hän's".

Fresca said...

Love it. And I see a PSA for it too:

Han Plural,
Han Solo.

Anonymous said...

Language has become so flexible as to tie itself in politically fashionable knots, this way to he, that way to she and always to hen, he-he-he. To take such malarkey seriously is to forget libraries with centuries of literature which will not conform to the latest fad. Imagine the new beauty of poetry in which hen loves hen, though hen's parents reject hen's parents because "hen is like the sun," said the little red hen. This supposed problem with sexism in language will demand all languages with two or three genders must conform. This is exactly where such confusion leads. Hen will tell you so. Just ask hen. Let the cackling begin, as we try to linguistically determine hen's genitalia as distinct from some other hen's genitalia, while hen's self-definition is not hen's.

Anonymous said...

"Therewith hen led the way, and Pallas Athene followed. And when they were now within the lofty house, hen set hen's spear that hen bore against a tall pillar, within the polished spear-stand, where stood many spears besides, even those of Odysseus of the hardy heart; and hen led the goddess and seated hen on a goodly carven chair, and spread a linen cloth thereunder, and beneath was a footstool for the feet. For hen-self hen placed an inlaid seat hard by, apart from the company of the wooers, lest the stranger should be disquieted by the noise and should have a loathing for the meal, being come among overweening men, and also that hen might ask him about hen's father that was gone from hen's home." Odd, I see?

Michael Leddy said...

Anon., I don’t think anyone is suggesting the elimination of he and she. But not everyone identifies as one or the other.

Whatever you think about han or hen, the absence of a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun is a feature of our language. I get around it by rewriting sentences or using he or she (sparingly) or singular they. When it’s a question of a person who identifies as neither he nor she, then it becomes another issue.

Anonymous said...

"A person who identifies...." So first one must know which pronouns are permissible and which would offend? This becomes situational ethics, writ small. In the day and age when one must select appropriate language according to the grammatical subject or object of the sentence, not to mention those pesky genitive forms as yet uncreated, then there become so many sets of competing rules that everything from blogging to news reporting to creative writing becomes a minefield of potential offences. But adjudicated by whom? Now that a UCLA professor has been indicted in some press as a racist for daring to correct grammar, then next step is....

Michael Leddy said...

With the honorific Mx., I imagine it would be a person’s choice (as I choose Mr. and not Dr., or as many women choose Ms.). With pronouns, I think we’re looking at the possibility of long-term cultural change. Consider color words: when I was a kid, it was appropriate to say Negro. Now, generally not, though Stanley Crouch, say, still uses the word. I think these things are adjudicated by everyone who participates in the language. As Mary Norris points out in her recent book, there have been many failed efforts to advocate for a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun.

[I’m replacing my previous comment to fix a couple of typos.]