Thursday, June 15, 2017

Rant: Dear Ms. Reid

Ms,Mrs, Miss Reid, (Trying to stay politically correct),

No you're not.
You're being sarcastic about the use of Ms.

When people trot out "I'm trying to be politically correct" the subtext is you people who want to define yourselves, rather than be defined by others, are just too cute, and don't need to be taken seriously by the rest of us.

Maybe the very idea of "Ms" offends you; you think it's bizarre or wrong or something other than "the real world, deal with it like a human being."  Fine. Think that. Rant about it on your blog. Holler it to the stars if you so desire.

But do not make the mistake of assuming everyone agrees with you. Or that I agree with you. 

I don't care what you think; I care how you behave.

Now I can hear the prickly pears amongst you saying "jeeze Sharkly it's just a damn salutation" and you're perfectly correct. BUT it tells me something about you. Something I don't much like. And it's a HUGE red flag for a potential client, who in the course of what I would hope will be a long and prosperous career, will need to interact politely with all sorts of people, some of whom might prefer Ms. Or be gender fluid. Or transitioning genders. And I need to have confidence that you're not going to just bulldoze your way through those interactions with "well, you look like girl, why is your name Homer?"


Bottom line: I am very happy to coach you on the arcane practices of the publishing world, but you have to come fully actualized on basic etiquette.

95 comments:

CynthiaMc said...

I never much liked Ms. I'm from the South where MS=Mississippi (both of my parents were born and grew up there). My mother hated it. She thought it was lazy writing. I use it and don't whine about it because that's the custom now and life is too short to bitch about every little thing.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Dear Ms. Homer Sapien
We are all in this together. Lets be nice. Lets respect each other. And to think, (let me be politically correct), todays post was written by a Great White.
Yours Truly,
Felix Buttonweazer
PS I love your scarf, may I borrow your scarf?

Susan said...

I grew up under the impression that Mrs. was for married women (to this day, I still call some of my parents' friends Mrs. So and So), Miss was for younger women who were unmarried, and Ms. was for older, unmarried woman. When I entered the business world, I learned that Ms. could be a replacement for all of them and was seen as a generic sign of respect.

That said, seems to me the writer was just being cheeky by addressing you with all three.
Maybe humor gone awry, but humor doesn't always translate so well over the internet, and especially not with strangers with whom you're expecting to do business.

Now let's talk about how I feel about ma'am... (hint, I love it, but only because I look like I'm twelve and it makes me feel like my actual age--which is not twelve.) =P

Rakie said...

agree so much with this. When people ask me, "is that Miss or Mrs?" they get glared at (I'm practicing a sharkly glare). Why the heck do we have to announce our marital status to everyone who asks? It bugs me.

Oh, and ma'am is fine, as far as I'm concerned, quite happy to be ma'am. Not so sure about the habit people have of sending me work-related letters addressed to Dear Sirs... neither I nor my boss nor anyone else who'll be answering the letter is male, and the sender knows this. I understand it could be the formal way of addressing more than one person, but anyone who tries it with me gets called Dear Madam for the duration of our interaction, regardless.

Alina Sergachov said...

Once, a guy called me sir. Then, almost blushed and mumbled, "um, ma'am". It was sort of funny because he was just a couple of years younger than I, and I look like a teenager! BUT I was wearing a uniform and giving him instructions, so he said sir and almost saluted me.

Colin Smith said...

I, too, was taught that "Ms." was for:

a) Women whose marital status was unclear, or unknown
b) Women who didn't want their martial status to be known
c) Professional or formal address

The whole Mrs./Miss thing is, after all, a social convention, and one I can see being a sore point for women who feel as if they're being defined by their marital status--or worse, being designated "available" or "unavailable" by their title. Which is why I have no problem using "Ms." in a professional context, or when the lady in question so self-designates. In fact, these days, it's my default address for women unless I know otherwise. After all, for men, the only alternative to Mr. is "Master" which usually designates a male who has not yet attained his majority. What message does that send? Men are always available? Marriage doesn't matter as much to men?

Strangely enough, when I was at school, all the female teachers were "Miss" regardless of martial status. "Miss, can I go to the toilet?" "Miss, Billy hit me!" "Awww... Miss!!!" I wonder if it's still that way in the UK...? And what about young Americans? Did y'all call your teachers "Miss" or "Ma'am" or what?

Amy Schaefer said...

Call me a pre-coffee pessimist, but I worry about the direction today's comments might take on this issue. May I be proven wrong.

I've only ever experienced people using the phrase "politically correct" in a derogatory manner. It implies that one is using certain words facetiously, pretending to satisfy the demands of an angry and overly-sensitive word police.

Is it so hard to let people choose how to refer to themselves? To choose their own salutations and pronouns? Does it really rip out a piece of your soul to call someone Ms instead of Mrs? Probably not. So if you don't actually want to die on that hill, why highlight it at all?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I hate ma'am, especially when I am addressed as ma'am by someone older than me. (Which means they are really old.)
Up here, in the vast wastelands of the neo-political northeast, ma'am is used as a sign of respect regarding mature females or female military officers or non-gender specific prison guards with tattoos.
What rankles me even more is when I am called, Miss. Miss means you're young. I ain't young. Miss means you're unmarried, not for 36 years have I been unmarried. Miss means you are a preschool teacher or a waitress wearing a tight shirt.
So if I dislike ma'am, and I hate miss, where does that leave me?
Go ahead, you can say it, call me B***h.
Certainly un-spayed but my husband was neutered.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I too was raised in the South where I was under the same impression as Colin and Susan. I do rather dislike being referred to as any of these forms because they are so formal and I am not. However, I am not at all offended my any of them - Miss, Mrs, Mr. Ms, Sir, My Lady, Numbskull, @$!&@&... whatever. I have failed to convince people to address me as Captain, my Captain. So I am not prickly about address. However, I am awkward about addressing others. Is it terribly improper in a query to simply address an agent by name

Something like Dear Barbara Poelle ... or is that too familiar? Serious breach of etiquette? With Janet, a simple Your Majesty seems appropriate. Anyhow, socially I am a hopeless mess. Always have been but I do not mean any harm.

Steve Stubbs said...

An ancient Greek philosopher (I think it was Chrysippus, but can't be sure because this is from memory) argued that the existence of Homer's poems seem to constitute a prima facie case that Homer existed as an actual person. The point of his argument was that the existence of God's handiwork constitutes a prima facie case for the existence of God.

Hardly anyone denies the fact of Homer's historical existence. But here is something nobody ever mentions: we have no bones to study and we know nothing about Homer. We do not know for sure that Homer was blind, and we do not know for sure Homer was not really Homeretta.

As for opening a business letter with an insult, perhaps the writer should study the difference between seeking a nibble from the Shark and inviting himself to be bitten.

Now that most adults are unmarried, and intend to remain that way (which is historically unprecedented), referring to all unmarried women as "Miss" even though they are no longer children is a bit out of date. I assume this person writes nostalgic historicals or literary selfies about how great things used to be growing up in Podunk, Ohio, and how did we let that get away from us.

Cheryl said...

I pretty much have to use Ms because I didn't change my last name. I'm married, so I'm not a Miss. But Mrs Rosbak is my mother and Mrs Milley is my husband's stepmother.

So when I'm required to choose a title, it has to be Ms.

Colin Smith said...

Captain, My Captain Elise: I wrestled with how to address query letters, especially when I've actually met the agent, or have had fun dialog with them. In the end, I resolved that in casual email, I would address them as I would in person. For example, when I drop an email to Janet, she's Janet, or Snookums, or SharkForBreath, or PleasePutThatHotPokerDownIDidn'tMeanItReally. However, in a business or professional communication, which is what a query ultimately is, she is Ms. Reid. It's not so much about how I address the intended recipient, but recognizing the nature of the communication, and using the appropriate form of address for that type of missive.

That's how I dodge the issue, anyway. ;)

Susan said...

Colin: My 96 year old grandma recently told me that when she was teaching in NYC in the 40s, it was inappropriate for teachers to be married. Not unmarried, mind you, but married. I'm still not entirely sure why--maybe the perception of caring for other people's children? Maybe because married women were supposed to be home with their own children back then? I think that could play a part with why some teachers are still addressed as Miss today, regardless of status.

EM: "I have failed to convince people to address me as Captain, my Captain."
This cracks me up. People can be so obstinate sometimes. =P


DLM said...

CynthiaMc, it's funny ... my first thought was that I'm from the South, where we call everyone Mizz and have for generations. As for Mississipi - both Miss and very-nearly-Missus are in there, so why is MS the only part of that association to cause offense? I'm also unclear what is lazy about it

Susan - haha on the "ma'am" comment, and yes on the generic facility of Ms. I would have said the writer was being cheeky - until the "politically correct" comment. That phrase is loaded, and so de-neutralizes any possible appropriate joke.

There was a time the newfangled telephone greeting "hello" was wildly offensive to some people. Lacking nominations for any improvements, and thanks to constant and inoffensive use, it has become acceptable. Indeed, I would suspect that the idea it was once thought too informal or presumptuous might well bewilder more people than not these days: it's how things are done, why would anyone find that offensive or irritating?

All Ms. is is an abbreviation for Mistress, and it is a centuries-old convention predating the offense people started taking at it during the twentieth, when people mistook it for a modern invention serving an agenda of which they did not approve. Colin, its very point was to overlook marital status and eliminate that as any indicator of status or relevance. Nobody in eighteenth century England or America would have imagined that Mistress or its abbreviation could be offensive. We've freighted it after the fact (see also: those who get het up about "they" as a neutral pronoun - also in use for centuries, even longer than Mistress/Ms.)


Now for the truly important linguistic problem. Can we come up with a better term than boyfriend/girlfriend for romantic relationships beyond the age of 30 or so? Because I haven't been a girl in decades, and I don't go in like that for little boys either.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I love Colin. I just do. Even if he never shares any of his daughter's delicious cakes with me. He makes me smile.

DLM My daughter agrees with you on the girlfriend/boyfriend address. She is seriously dating someone who is most definitely no longer a boy (he's almost a decade her senior). She finds the word "boyfriend" silly for 2 adults as well.

Donnaeve said...

Good points, Elise.

I don't mind Ms., pronounced Mizz, as Elise says. Being from the South, this particular salutation has always resonated with me. I love it when the neighborhood kids call me Ms. Donna. And they do. I think of it as the polite way to address someone when we don't know if they're married or not.

It was silly of this particular person to go through that list, Ms, Mrs. or Miss. I'd settle on the idea that maybe this person should go with Miss, b/c that idea was evidently a big Miss.

Mark Thurber said...

I participated in a political phone bank last year. One of my fellow callers was introduced by their sister as a genderqueer person who uses "they/them" pronouns. Despite this, the volunteer phone bank coordinator kept calling them "he/him," to the growing consternation of the genderqueer caller and, especially, the sister. Eventually the mother came in and reamed out the coordinator. It was not a pretty scene.

It was a vivid demonstration of the importance of trying to make things less about me ("these are the pronouns I grew up with and I'm damned well going to use them!") and more about how to show respect and care for my fellow human beings even when it pushes me outside my comfort zone.

Donnaeve said...

As to that boyfriend/girlfriend thing...(just read the latest comment) I thought of a cute story. Some older folks (yeah, I know, some of you don't like the word "folks" either) around here, when talking about their kids starting to date, call their kid's puppy love crushes, "so and so's little friend."

As in, "Bobby's little friend, Becky."

No way am I suggesting this as a fix. Haha. Can you imagine introducing someone that way? This is my "little friend." Could cause some raised eyebrows.

I don't know that special friend works either. Close friend? Number one friend? Significant friend? IDK. It's been too long for me in that world.

Sage Blackwood said...

I agree with Amy Schaefer. I've ony ever seen or heard "politically correct" used derogatorily.

The phrase has the same etymology as "polite"; when people are complaining about having to be politically correct they're really complaining about having to be polite.

I'm surprised "Ms" is considered controversial by anyone. I was calling my teachers "Ms." 40 years ago. I prefer it myself, as I don't think the first thing a stranger needs to know about me is my marital status. (Nor would I like having to ask strangers their marital status right off the bat-- "Is it Mrs. or Miss?")

There's no secret code of status or age involved in "Ms." It doesn't mean "old maid" or "successful businesswoman" or "divorced". It's just a simple means of addressing women with an unconfusing honorific. No one thinks it's controversial do this for men.


Kregger said...

The only time a salutation is supposed to be funny is in a comedy club. As in, "How are you beefy, pink-wearing Harley Davidson riding, red-necks doing today?"

Steve, I thought Podunk was in Jersey?

My wife and her friends used to laugh when they were "Ma'am-ed." They would point to each other and chuckle because the waiter/waitress assumed they were forty-ish when in fact they were thirty-nine. For some reason, they frown when I invoke a similar form of hilarity by calling them, dowagers.

I guess there are worse forms of honorifics.

What was Dan Aykroyd's, Joe Friday from Dragnet, character's honorific for his girlfriend?

The words we call or address each other change and differ from region to region, but the respect we should treat each other with shouldn't.

Colin Smith said...

Diane: Interesting historical perspective on "Ms." Of course, as you know, words change meaning over time, and take on connotations never envisioned when they were first coined. "Ms" is a good example of that.

Susan: Very interesting. That could indeed explain the tradition. True to say that it was weird to me as a child to think of my teachers as having husbands/wives or manfriends/womenfiends (how's that, Diane?)... or lives outside of school! It shook my world to see teachers out shopping. Anyway... And it's so cool you have a 96 yr old grandmother! What a treasure for you and your family. :)

CMC Elise: Awww! Glad I could make you smile. My work is done for the day. Can I go home now? ;)

Miri Baker said...

Also grew up in the South (central Georgia) and in everyday speech, absolutely every woman in your life was "Miss" (teachers, your friend's mom, the pastor's wife, the waitress, the cashier) not because that was technically correct but because it was easy to say.

I knew HOW to write it down and knew what was technically correct, but "Mrs." has a whole extra syllable, and who has time for that, once I'm already being polite?

But back to the topic at hand.

Not sure if others feel this way, but this salutation reads dramatically worse to me than just picking one and getting it wrong (even if there might be some bad assumptions in here), because here, the sender is laughing at (and not with) the type of person who might--gasp!--deign to take offense when someone uses a title they don't prefer, with all the gross assumptions and lack of empathy and respect that goes with it. Sender could have stopped at being incorrect, but barreled straight through to bumhattery. It's almost impressive.

Grace Wen said...

Miri Baker said: "Not sure if others feel this way, but this salutation reads dramatically worse to me than just picking one and getting it wrong"

Oh, it's not just you. The wrong salutation alone could be considered an honest mistake, but the way this salutation is written reads, "I know I'm being an asshat but I'm doubling down on it because...?"

kathy joyce said...

Why do we have to distinguish whether someone is married or not? I'd vote for getting rid of Mrs. and Miss. And, let's banish "politically correct." That concept means, "I don't want to treat people I don't like politely, but society forces me to." Good! That's what societies do. Making it "political" turns avoiding basic kindness and human dignity into a principle that others cannot fault. "When I [disrespect you], I'm just expressing my political opinions, free speech and all." No wonder our public discourse is in the toilet.

DLM said...

kathy joyce, that parallels what I was just thinking after reading Grace's comment, which is that the writer's posing it as a "joke" is a strategy designed to make anyone responding poorly to his phrasing feel bad (or look bad in his own eyes) for having no "sense of humor." Which is a classic way to attempt to get away with rudeness - people presume to excuse their own behavior by projecting poor sportsmanship onto the recipients of their insensitivity.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

It is all about respect and hospitality, isn't it? As a Midwesterner, I grew up calling my teachers Miss, Mrs. and Mr. My preferred address, not being young and not being married, is to be called Ms. But should anyone attach my last name, I'm looking around for my kids' Oma.

My daughter has been doing genealogy research. She has a difficult time with that era when newspaper clippings listed women strictly as Mrs. John White or Mrs. George Brown.

Regarding the boyfriend/girlfriend: I've heard some young women using the phrase "Sally's man" but I'm not appreciative of that phrasing either.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

A salutation trifecta? That'll never be a winner. Go with just one. The polite and professional one. Announcing you're "trying to be politically correct" fails at being humorous. And I agree with EM... I think we all love Colin.

Regarding the "ma'am" thing... I was born and raised in the north, but have lived in the deep south for decades. I was taken aback the first time someone called me ma'am. I was in my twenties and it was just so completely foreign.

I recall a conversation with an elderly black man (I'm white and I was much, much younger than him). When he said, "Yes, ma'am..." I naively thought, "Omg! Is this a race thing!?" And quickly assured him he didn't have to call me ma'am. He looked at me with the sympathy one might reserve for a kitten in the rain and said, "Well, what else would I call you?"

Being addressed as "ma'am" is now as familiar and comfortable as someone calling me Melanie Sue.

Colin Smith said...

As I understand it, the term "politically correct" refers to a particular narrative within society that delineates how we should speak about race, gender, religion, and other such potentially-touchy subjects. There are those within society that will get upset with those who transgress that narrative in some way, and other that will object to the imposition of such a narrative and deliberately transgress it just to get up people's noses.

Personally, I think both sides have a point. There are those who will not tolerate any breech of what they regard as PC-speech, and that take an almost Orwellian view of what one can or cannot say, without any regard to a person's traditions or faith convictions. To give an example from the current conversation, there are those who would be upset that we would even consider addressing a woman as "Mrs." And I mean more than just "I prefer you didn't," but "How DARE you!!!" without regard for the fact that the person may be using Mrs. because that's how they were raised to be polite.

On the other hand, we don't need to be so full of ourselves that we deliberately go out of our way to cause offense. Sure, you may think using "Ms" is a capitulation to the PC-Police, but will it really kill you not to cause offense to someone who might prefer that address? And can we not accept that certain words used of ethnic or other minorities in past decades are no longer acceptable, and, indeed, cause deep offense today? It's not towing the PC-line. As others have said, it's simply not being an a-hat.

T.C. Galvin said...

I love Ms. - a lot of the time when I'm writing business correspondence I don't know the martial status of the person, so having a neutral address saves a lot of mental stress and/or Facebook stalking. I'd much rather call someone Ms. and risk them disliking the address than accidently calling them Mrs. or Miss. incorrectly, especially since it really bugs me when people address me as Mrs. in letters or emails.
While I do use Sir/Madam when writing to business entities, addressing someone as Ms/Mrs/Miss doesn't make any sense anywhere, let alone professional correspondence. Ms. already covers all the bases - adding more to make a point in a professional letter is a great way to get fired...
Re. relationships, I quite like 'partner' these days.

Joyce Tremel said...

At home, I am addressed as "Queen" but so far I haven't been able to convince anyone else to call me that.

My pet peeve is when young children call me by my first name--especially after taking taekwondo for years. I got used to being called Mrs. Tremel or ma'am. I think it's a sign of disrespect for children to use first names for their elders unless they've been told to by that person. Yes, I'm an old fuddy-duddy.

Colin Smith said...

T.C.: I've had junk mail addressed to "Mrs. Colin Smith." I don't get angry. I just give it to my wife. ;)

Joyce: The perennial question, though, is at what point do you stop being Mrs. Tremel, or Ms. Joyce, and become Joyce? There are family friends my wife grew up with whom she still can't bring herself to address by their first name alone.

Melanie: Awww!! You're too kind. :D I would like to think that's true, but I doubt it. You haven't lived if you haven't--even unintentionally--made a few enemies along the way. Even Janet gets nasty letters, can you believe? ;)

William Plante said...

Bam!

Amy Schaefer said...

I'll add to the boyfriend/girlfriend stories. A lady of my acquaintance, currently aged 97, moved into a retirement home after her husband passed away. She met a nice man there, who became her "boyfriend." She always referred him simply as "my friend, John." He was never John - always my-friend-John. She didn't over-emphasize, but they way she said it made it clear that this was a special person in her life.

Mark Anthony Songer said...

Attention Earthlings:

In recent monitoring of your social media interactions, we have become aware the evolutionary process on your planet has gone completely awry leaving you with no fewer than 147 genders, thus requiring 147 gender referencing pronouns. This does, however, create confusion and awkwardness as it becomes impossible to know upon meeting a stranger which word to use lest the stranger become offended.

To this end it has been decided that everybody will henceforth be restricted to the use of y'all in both the singular and plural when addressing someone directly. We are also rescinding the "inappropriate" ruling concerning using plural gender neutral pronouns such as they, them, and themselves when referring to an individual.

Sincerely,
Your Benevolent Overlords

CynthiaMc said...

DLM - my mother was a very proper Southern lady who made Ms. Manners look like a slacker. She is no longer here to ask, but best as I recall from a long-ago discussion while doing dishes together one night, Mom felt it was lazy because you should take the time to find out someone's proper title and not just call them any old thing. We did laugh about everything coming out like Mizz in the South anyway. She also felt MS was already taken by Mississippi, which made it Lazy x 2 in her book.

Colin Smith said...

Sorry--I know, commenting a lot today. But I was just thinking about the mature girl/boyfriend question. What terminology do we use when we're talking about celebrities? Do we say "Katy Perry's latest boyfriend," or "Johnny Depp's girlfriend"? I'm not exactly the most culturally-aware person, but don't people usually say they are "seeing" or "dating" a person? I know the term "partner" is very popular in the UK, but then you have to be REALLY careful to emphasize the nature of other partnerships. "He's my business partner." "We're partners... but not in the Biblical sense..." ;)

Julie Weathers said...

Well, Miss Janet was correct. This isn't as bad as I feared it was going to be. I'm not going to say what I was afraid it was going to be about, but I wasn't in a mood for it.

Remember the show Driving Miss Daisy? Yeah. If you're from the south, a lot of ladies get called Miss whatever regardless of marital status. "Miss Betty, that purple looks gorgeous on you. You should wear it more often."

I wouldn't address another agent as Miss so-and-so, but by now Janet is familiar with my particular brand of insanity. When I have business correspondence with others I address them as Ms. or Mr. last name until I've been given permission to address them by the first name. It's a sign of respect.

When the boys used to bring their friends over, it was always Mrs. Weathers until I told them they could call me Julie. Their parents raised them right. And none of this danged "huh?" stuff. It was, "Beg your pardon?"

So, when I read this person's, "Ms, Mrs, Miss Reid, (Trying to stay politically correct)," my bull crap detector goes off immediately. They were not trying to be politically correct or polite. They were trying to be a smart ass. I understand the difference.

I agree with Cynthia I didn't care for it when it first started, but I'm used to it now and life is too short. I understand women don't want to be defined by their marital status.

When my ex and I were sitting down to negotiate the divorce, he demanded I give his name back. The lawyer, not understanding, said, "Well, she can shange her name to her maiden name if she wishes."

"No, I don't want to give her a choice. I want my name back."

"Mr. Weathers, you can't take your name. You gave it to her."

"And now I'm taking it back."

Me, "Indian giver."

The meeting did not go well.

I kept custody of the name and the Mrs. I fought for it and if I wish to use it that's my perogative.

Colin In the south they did call the teachers Miss whatever. I'm not sure if they still do.

Diane I agree on the Mizz thing. I, of course, agree on the ma'am thing. I don't understand why it irritates people. I will try not to use it to people who dislike it, but old brain and hard habit to break. If I call someone ma'am it isn't because I am trying to offend them. If they are offended then I guess life is tough for them. I'll pray for them and that will probably offend them also, but any excuse to find peace for a minute.

Elise A boyfriend is a gentleman caller. Really. This should be common knowledge. A lady is a lady friend.


kdjames.com said...

I prefer to be addressed as She Who Must Be Obeyed, but the cat seems to have appropriated the title for herself.

It boggles my mind that anyone would stumble over Miss/Ms/Mrs in a business context at this point in time. It's a big red flag telling me that this person has had no experience with business correspondence in the past several decades. Or they're simply being a condescending asshat, deserving every word of this very fine rant.

I get irritated when a complete stranger (usually in the process of trying to sell me something) calls me by my first name in a smarmy and overly friendly/familiar tone. And I'm not an overly formal person, so I'm not sure why this bothers me. Yes, actually, I do know. It's disrespectful. And get off my lawn.

Colin Smith said...

kd: YES!! And I think that says so much. No matter what we might say about salutations, how do we react when a cold-caller refers to us by our first name? I don't like it, and neither does my wife. So--would an agent you've never had any contact with prior to that query appreciate it? Maybe not. :)

Kate Higgins said...

I was born in an era of an awful lot of 'Kathy's – all some derivation of Kathleen or Katherine...all spelled differently, of course. So when I met my husband, guess what, he had a grandmother, a sister, a sister-in-law and an ex-wife all named Kathleen or Katherine and all with the same last name. Although the 'Kathy' overload was not the main reason I didn't take the gift of his name, I was not going be Mrs. Kathy/Kath/Kathryn Menzel the 5th.

I am an artist and had already established my name (and dubious fame) with my original name. My husband saw no reason why I should take his name and left it entirely up to me...we would be married whether I had his last name or not. I also like the Irish/Welsh family history of my surname. I am now the family matriarch for my line of Higgins'. I imagine myself in a huge peacock chair with a tight bun and true Matriarchal frown on my face (I can hear my daughter's snorting laugh ringing in my head now).

So to be "politically" correct, I am Ms. You can't make a mistake by using it as a salutation and unless your name is Jamie, Kelly, Taylor or a foreign name that is not gender-ly understood, then Ms. is the way to go. When you address a business letter: “Dear Mr./Ms. Surname” is the acceptable way to go. If you address an agent; you'd better already know a lot more about them (note gender neutral word) than just gender.

For example: I teach part-time at the YMCA as an arts specialist and the little ones are taught to call all the instructors 'Miss' or 'Mr.' followed by their given name so everyone is addressed the same. The kids have no gender biases and being very literal in their interpretations of polite formal speech; my colleagues are often called; Miss Tom, Miss George, Mr. Sally, Miss Ralph and of course; Miss Kelly, Miss Amal and Miss Morgan (guess the gender of those names!)

It can be really confusing.

I am, however, wondering if I can someday get away with addressing a certain QOTKU as "Mistress Snookums"...

kathy joyce said...

The historical reason for why we distinguish married and unmarried women is important, maybe more so than the origins of the words. It used to really matter if you were Miss versus Misses, and people had to find out. You could not invite a Miss to a party without a chaperone. You could invite Misses because her husband would chaperone her. If you got to the Ms stage, you were an old maid, and not invited at all. (Fun fact: one reason the Catholic canon law gives for a woman to marry outside of the faith is reaching the "advanced age" of 23 without a husband!) My grandmother was a Miss schoolteacher until she became a Misses. Oops, not allowed to be married; she had to leave her job.

I think this historical baggage is why women's titles can rankle so much. They're historically based in ensuring that women are "appropriately managed" in society. Ugh!

Megan V said...

Donna Your comment brought the classic clip from Scarface to mind. Definitely not a good alternative. :)

I don't think that selecting a Ms. Mrs. Miss. Madam or Ma'am introduction is a matter of being PC but rather a matter of simple etiquette or courtesy. I am generally going to address people politely (whether or not they've earned my respect) because that's the courteous thing to do. Depending on marital status, then grammatically, some work better than others. I think that's why this intro hits a sour note.

DLM said...

Julie, exactly. It must be exhausting, constantly taking offense to things one knows are not intended as insults. (I do, though, draw the line with macros and salespeople; on which points, read on.)

I spent twenty-plus years in insurance and financial services, with a brief detour into working for a very old-school utility company. In those years, it would have been UNTHINKABLE to address anyone but a colleague I was very familiar with indeed with any form of address but their title and/or name. Since coming into a completely new industry, though, I have found the extremely judicial use of "hon" and a particular form of familiarity not merely okay, but actually necessary to my job. To be too formal with some people DOES make them suspicious of you, even in certain professional settings. I still start all my emails with a greeting, and my written communications are more pragmatic than affectionate, but humor is necessary and allowed around here. And I am EXTREMELY careful about "hon"-ing anybody. It's not to be done with strangers, no matter the context.

kdjames, oh. my. gosh. YES! I have a big problem being called by my first name by strangers/retailers/robocallers and robo-emailers. "You do not know me like that" tends to me my mental response. The use of someone's name is an ancient and intimate privilege, and I don't hand that out to machines or salespeople. They don't necessarily have to Mizz me to death, but just don't call me by name. In the dwindling areas I can control this, I do force the bots to call me "Ms. Major" where possible, because I know I'll be HEY DIANE'd to death if they have my first name. When sales people call and make sure to catch my name when I answer, and they Diane me to pieces, the pathetic and transparent manipulative-strategy of it tires and irks me.

This isn't, to me, a question of formality but one of intimacy. My name means a great deal to me, and I don't like it being abused by machines and people attempting to wheedle me. People here, people I know - people who have established they understand ME to be a person - can address me in pretty much any non-insulting way, and I'm happy with it. But familiar address by salespeople or machines: I am not familiar with you, and you are treating me as if YOU are familiar with ME. Which we both know you are not. Desist.

Even though the machines and salespeople think they do not mean to offend, there IS presumption in place with familiar address, and most folks I believe still prefer to CONFER this privilege rather than just have it taken up without any personal understanding between parties.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Julie Bless you. My daughter's reaction to me inquiring after her "gentleman caller"- priceless.

So, it sounds like I am bang on order addressing my queries as Ms or Mr to agents I have no personal acquaintance with. Because that is what I am going to do. Probably. Possibly. But what about The Left Hamd of Darkness, a well-reputed agent, or Death Kitty? Are those formal titles that must be respected?

BJ Muntain said...

Hm. This person must be older - and by older, I mean older than I am. And they've been out of the business loop for quite a while.

'Ms.' isn't just used for 'politically correct language' anymore. It's a necessity. Ms. is the feminine form most like 'Mr.', in that it's used whether the person is married or non-married. What if you don't know if the woman is married? Do you assume she is, because she's older? Do you assume she's not because she's younger? Women under 20 do get married, and women over 30 (or 40. or 50. or 100) are sometimes single. And if you don't know which she is, you're going to blunder. So 'Ms.' is the safe way to keep you out of trouble.

I often get phone calls asking, "May I speak to Mr. or Mrs. Muntain?" I know they're trying to sell me something. I say, "Sorry. No Mr. or Mrs. Muntain here." Then they apologize and hang up and leave me alone.

Get off my lawn, you behind-the-times losers. Assuming someone is married is not only old-fashioned, it also proves that you don't know me well enough for me to want to talk to you. At least if you use the proper salutation, I'll listen to see if you really are someone I want to talk to.

As for the fellow who is being reamed out in the blog post - if you really don't like 'Ms.', the only other option is to use their first name - which an older person might balk at as being too informal. Or Snookums. Or Queen of the Known Universe. Or 'Oh Sharkly One'... but those latter three only work for one agent, and if you use them for others, that, too, will probably be an automatic reject.

On a more professional note: This is why you want someone familiar with the business to critique your query letter.

Laina said...

Man, if this person thinks this is "politically correct", are they ever going to hate when someone introduces them to "Mx." which is actually gender neutral.

Because you cannot assume someone's gender by their looks, or their name, or anything besides the telling you.

Laina said...

Also if you don't mind a second comment so I can snark a bit more... the only reason you should be calling me personally Miss is if you are 4.

Are you as cute as a 4 year old? Then skip it.

stacy said...

A young guy called me "ma'am" the other day, in a totally respectful tone.

Damn. That didn't make me feel old at all. :)

Mark Thurber said...

Great discussion today. To Laina's point, I wouldn't be surprised if we eventually migrate to Mx. (or equivalent) to include both genderqueer folks and those whose gender is not obvious from the name to the one doing the addressing. My default approach in the latter case is Dear FIRST_NAME LAST_NAME, but that can be a little clunky.

Mark Thurber said...

And of course I could be wrong even with an "obvious" name...

BJ Muntain said...

Colin: Back in my Canadian schooldays (this being a very long time ago), the first class of the first day of school, the teacher would announce what she or he wanted to be addressed as. She'd write it on the big black chalkboard: "Mrs. Teachername", in great big letters. Or "Miss Teachername". "Or Ms. Teachername" (though this was still rare in small towns in the 70s). Or "Mr. Teachername". There were no doubts then. But then, as I said, that was a very long time ago. I don't know if classrooms even still have chalkboards.

Regarding "Politically correct": The term has become somewhat derogatory, because there were those who took it too far. There's nothing wrong with letting people choose how to refer to themselves. It's when people choose how to refer to others in ways they think the others will prefer. Making changes in the way people talk, just for the sake of making those changes, is kind of derogatory itself. It means that people can't decide for themselves what they are. They have to be told. It also means that people have to be told what to say. Sure, there are some words that really shouldn't be used anymore, but sometimes you need something stronger than the 'politically correct' version: 'visually impaired' can cover a lot of different visual problems, but 'blind' generally means someone who can't see much at all, if anything. And sometimes you want to specify that someone is blind, because otherwise people might not understand *how* visually impaired they are. But if a blind person prefers to be called 'visually impaired', that's completely up to them. And vice versa.

EM: "Dear Barbara Poelle" is probably the best way to deal with not wanting to use any salutations. If I have to send an e-mail to someone whose gender isn't somehow obvious, I use their full name. "Dear Barbara", however, might be considered too informal. I'm not sure if she'd like "Dear El Slitherina"...

Susan: My grandmother was a teacher in the 1920s, and I don't think things had progressed that much into the 40s. It was improper that a teacher be married because married women did NOT work outside the home. Married women had husbands to support them. It wasn't until WWII that women had to take on the jobs the men were leaving behind. (This happened to some extent in WWI, but it didn't change society as much, yet. After the war, the women went back to working at home.)

Unmarried women - including teachers - had to be looking for a husband. Once they found a husband, they were forced to leave their job. My grandmother married a farmer about twenty years older than she was, and left teaching to have a passel of kids and work on the farm. When her husband died thirty years later, in the 50s, she was allowed to go back to teaching.

Lennon Faris said...

Yeah I just use Ms. So much simpler. I don't usually mind what people call me though.

Mrs. [husband's name] is the only thing that gets under my skin (just slightly). That is obviously incorrect... I don't have his first name anywhere in mine.

EM, aka Captain, my Captain - I like it!

Susan said...

BJ: My grandma always wanted to be a teacher. She specifically didn't want to get married because she loved it so much (she taught sixth grade). When my grandpa returned from the war, he had to make a decision--to stay in the army or to marry my grandma because she refused to be an army wife and leave her job. But my grandpa adored her. When he was discharged, he got a job teaching printing just to be near her, and then they married. Eventually they both worked for the teacher's union before they retired maybe fifteen or so years ago when my grandpa got sick. I don't know how she was able to stay on as a teacher after marrying--I think they changed the rule (at least in NY) sometime in the 50s--but I'm assuming her willful nature also had something to do with it. ;)

I'm glad your grandmother was able to go back to teaching, too. It's astonishing to me how much things have changed for women for the better in this regard.

gypsyharper said...

As some others have stated, I was always under the impression that Ms. was used a) if you didn't know the marital status of the woman, or b) if that was her stated preference. I honestly don't know what you're supposed to use if you don't know someone's gender. I've seen Mx. as a gender neutral salutation, but I'm not sure if that's the generally accepted form or not.

When I was younger and still unmarried, I once answered a telemarketer call and the caller said "Hello Mrs. Gardner, how are you today?" I responded, "I'm fine, but I'm not a Mrs." There was a long pause, and then he started again: "Hello Mr. Gardner, how are you today?" I couldn't help it, I laughed at the poor man.

Lisa: I feel your daughter's pain. I too am a genealogist, and there is almost nothing I find more frustrating than only being able to find a woman referred to by Mrs. husband's first and last name. Mostly for that reason, I find it very irritating to be addressed that way. As I always say, I took my husband's last name, not his first. (Although, apparently, according to Miss Manner's, using Mrs. with a woman's given first name and husband's surname indicates she's widowed. I am of the opinion that it's high time THAT rule was changed).

gypsyharper said...

And obviously I didn't read all the comments carefully before posting, as I now see others have mentioned the gender neutral Mx. as well. Oops. I do like the Dear [Firstname] [Lastname] approach.

Elissa M said...

So, I live in the US Southwest. People mostly address new acquaintances and others they don't actually know by their first and last names. Once you get to know the person, it switches to first name only. Titles are only used when they are professional. Dr so-and-so, Professor such-and-such. Unless told otherwise, elderly people are addressed as Mister, Misses, Senor, Senora (depending on their primary language).

It's a little different regarding children addressing adults. In that case, I've most commonly heard the Southern convention of Mr or Ms First Name. A medical doctor I know who also teaches music at a charter school is referred to by her students as Dr First Name.

My husband is retired now, but he spent 26 years in the Army. The military is much easier to navigate protocol-wise than civilian life: there are official rules! Everyone is Rank Last Name. Sir and Ma'am are only for officers. When more informally referring to your peers? Nearly always, Last Name--though that's habit, not a requirement; first names are okay. Still, I knew more of my husband's colleague's first names than he did!

On topic: I agree with everyone saying the person using multiple salutations and claiming political correctness is being a jerk.

John Davis Frain said...

Some days, Janet nails it so well I got nothin' to add.

Okay, most days.

french sojourn said...


I've always felt that when someone says they're trying to be "Politically correct", it's just mumble speak for "I've added my name to a waiting list for a spine donor." Say what you mean, if it's coarse and hurtful then you will reap the rewards of your negative thoughts. (And any agent worth their Atlantic sea salts will pass on you.)

Cheers Hank.

Barbara Etlin said...

I'm flabbergasted that the use of Ms. as a salutation could still be controversial. For business letters (and this would include a query), I always use Mr. Lastname or Ms. Lastname. When I'm not sure about the gender, I use Dear Firstname Lastname.

I wait for the business correspondent to start using first names in subsequent correspondence.

***

I am really irritated by someone calling me "Ma'am." I understand cultural differences in the American South, and make allowances for it when I'm travelling there. But at home, it's as if the person (it's usually a salesperson and a stranger) is calling out, "Hey, Old Lady!" Until I'm Queen Barb, please don't call me "Ma'am."

Mark Ellis said...

Controversey over the good ship "Ms." has sailed so far out to sea by this point that any objection to it is beyond anachronistic. I'll never understand why people push unnecessary envelopes like this, thereby shooting themselves in the foot. As Ms. Reid makes clear, choosing to die on this hill from the jump is a huge red flag.

With that, I think I'm overdrawn at the cliche-bank.

LynnRodz said...

Whoa! I'll just write, Dear Janet Reid and leave it at that.

Craig F said...

>b: it is La Slitherina, El is masculine. It is the nature of that language. It is also the reason so many people around the world speak American English. AE is a dynamic language that is capable of change. Ms. is a modern salutation and should be treated as an honorific the same as any other.

If a person wishes to be known by a certain salutation you should honor their wishes by using that. Misuse should be treated the same as a call from a sales agent or robocaller, just hang up.

Do your research and honor those you wish would also honor you. In other words, do not call me MISTER Craig.

Susan said...

I know I'm breaking the rules by going over my three-comment limit, but I'm reading back through the comments and want to address some stuff.

First, Colin, thank you! My grandma is a handful, but we love her.

Diane: "I would have said the writer was being cheeky until the politically correct comment..."
That's absolutely fair and that mistake is on me. The term "politically correct" is tossed around so much these days, I tend to glaze over when I see it, taking whatever people say at face value. But you're right that it's a loaded term that changes the meaning, and there were other intentions here with that greeting that I missed. I appreciate you bringing it to my attention.

Joseph Snoe said...

I say "Yes Ma'am" or "No Ma'am" *or Yessur or nosur) all the time, regardless of the woman's age. Don't even think about it.

I usually don't address people by name, only when referring to them in the third person.

I never say Mrs. I think what comes out is some sort of sound like "Mzz" instead of Mrs. Miss. or Ms. I should record myself and hear what I say.

If a person has a title like Professor, Judge, Justice, Representative, Dr., or Officer, I use that automatically (unless they're friends in which case I use their first name).

In writing it's "Ms." unless a more specific title is appropriate. (The only exception being a former secretary who preferred "Mrs." )

Marty Weiss said...

I propose two conventions:

1- If we do not know the person's last name, then just type in TWIMC
2- If we do know the last name, then how about Dear Smith

Both conventions are sexless, PC, non-insulting and utterly proper for the circumstance.

Craig F said...

I believe Ms. was coined in the seventies to remove the stigma of a woman being married or not. Therefore I use it almost exclusively, almost like a default setting.

DLM said...

Craig, it goes back well over three hundred years.

Mark Ellis, heh on all counts. Can I use "overdrawn a the cliche bank" ... ? That is gorgeous.

I am overdrawn on comments today, and so will shaddap.

Sam Mills said...

I loved getting "Dear Sirs" or "Dear Gentlemen" emails while working in a research library. There wasn't a single guy on staff and we always got a laugh. It's been a very female-dominated profession for the last, oh, century, you should hedge your bets with the salutation!

Kate Larkindale said...

I don't have anything to add to the Ms, Mrs, Miss discussion. At this stage, it seems that Ms should be the default for women.

I like the idea of calling adult boyfriends gentlemen callers, but it doesn't really fit when said caller and I have been together 20 years and have two kids… I hate 'partner' and there isn't really another word that works better. So I still call my significant other my boyfriend.

A long time ago I had a boyfriend who introduced me to his grandmother as his co-sleeper. Strangely that relationship didn't last.

Denise Beucler said...

I had a minor heart attack parsing this, since I used Ms. in all my applicable query letters so far. Then I realized that was a direct quote, and my face met my palm.

Panda in Chief said...

I agree that when someone hauls out the "I'm trying to be politically correct" line, I find myself thinking in Yodaesque fashion, "There is no 'try' there is only 'do' "
I prefer "Ms" and always accept "panda" with a grin. "Ma'am" makes me feel old, even when the intention is polite, probably because I'm from the north.
I still haven't figured out what to call my gentleman friend of 18 years, since we are far from spring chickens. Mostly I call him Mr. Badger, but am reminded of the scene from The Big Liebowski about his lady friend versus his special lady.
Call me whatever, just not late to dinner.

Beth Carpenter said...

In West Texas in the 60s, my first three teachers were Mizz Longton (a widow), Mizz McElfresh (a single woman) and Mizz Davis (a married woman). I had no idea at the time it was spelled Ms. and would become the standard written form of address for a female person, it was just easier.

Recently a 70-year-old neighbor asked me for advice on a letter he was sending out as chair of the sanitation committee. My first suggestion, change "Gentlemen" to "Ladies and Gentlemen" took him by by surprise. He's not sexist -- his wife was a professional until her retirement and he does all the cooking -- but when he was taught to write a business letter, Gentlemen was the correct term for a group, and he wanted the letter to be correct. He did eventually change the salutation.

abnormalalien said...

Wow, I'm not sure I would have read into this weird salutation. I think I would have interpreted it as "someone who is afraid that the person on the other end will ream them out for not getting it right." I do see that it could come off as sarcastic but I've also had dealings with people who are so afraid to offend anyone that they go to extraordinary lengths. Sometimes, those lengths wind up offending more.

That being said, if I were to write a letter that started Dear Ms. Smith, and Mrs/Miss/Mr Smith responded in such a way as to remind me that I am a horrible person with no hope of improvement, then I would feel like perhaps we were not a match made in Heaven after all. I'm fine being told, "btw, I go by X" or even "you were wrong, I go by X." Add in enough vitriol or attitude about it and I'll just apologize but avoid contact in the future.

Adele said...

In Janet's example, I think the problem is - too familiar, too soon. A lot of people hear jocularity and interpret it as cheekiness, sass, or just plain rudeness, and when you're addressing someone for the first time whyever would you choose rudeness as the way to go? It's purely bad letter-writing.

On other topics - I'm a Ms, have always been one. I introduce a male friend as "This is George". Nobody needs to know if he's a boyfriend, significant other, main squeeze, lover, mon bonhomme, mon petit ami, whatever.

Where I live, ma'am is how you address the Queen, or - perhaps - a woman of very advanced age. Very advanced age. The sort of advanced age that goes with translucent skin and extreme frailty. When you don't think she'll reach her next birthday, you call her ma'am. Until then, you just don't. The first time an innocent tourist, asking for directions, called me "Ma'am", I just about decked her. I was 28. That's when I learned that other people in other places have different rules.

Em-Musing said...

Had no idea there was this much chat about this topic. If someone doesn't know how to address me I'm good with, Your Highness.

Claire Bobrow said...

My left hand has gone numb holding my phone and scrolling through today's comments! Interesting post. Like Susan, I look about 12. Ma'am does not bother me; Miss does, but I realize it's my own stupid hang up. I give people the benefit of the doubt and appreciate any form of politeness or attempted politeness. Courteous behavior seems so rare these days that I don't like to nit pick. Maybe my standards are too low?

Alina Sergachov said...

Julie-when you mentioned a "gentleman caller" the first thing I thought about was The Glass Menagerie. They use this expression quite often in that play.

EM- Captain, my Captain made me smile.

Claire-ma'am or miss doesn't bother me, but I hate when people call me Madam. I'm not even 30 yet and not married, so being called Madam feels just wrong...

What really bothers me though is when people ask me "where are you from?". Only one question could be worse, "No, where are you REALLY from?" It always makes me feel extremely uncomfortable.

Colin Smith said...

Alina: So, what would be a good, sensitive way to ask about your cultural heritage without making you feel "alien," yet showing genuine interest in you as a person? I'm fascinated with other cultures, and people whose background are not like mine. But I know it can be a very sensitive subject for some.

Dena Pawling said...


For business correspondence I use Ms or Dear Firstname Lastname.

My navy son calls almost every non-military female ma'am. In the military, ma'am and sir are terms of respect and anything else isn't.



James Ticknor said...

Business is about taking risks. If a simple salutation is deemed too risky, then their query better be pretty damn good. Additionally, what does that tell me about how they approach their writing? Writing is an art, and the purpose of art is to be daring, bold, and not to care what other people think. I am curious though, Janet, did reading that make you raise your standard for the quality of the query, or was it just an annoyance?

P.S. By the way, hi. I haven't responded to one of your posts in almost a year. I've missed you.

P.S. P.S. Screw Grammerly. I have 4 errors on this post that are most certainly NOT spelling or grammatical errors.

BJ Muntain said...

Welcome back, James Ticknor! Nice to see you!

Janet Reid said...

Since I'm just a plain white shark, no one ever asks me where I'm from. I've always wanted to be asked and then say, absolutely seriously, "Mars."

Which is not to make light of the very real insensitivy that is shown to folks who are asked this impolite and intrusive question. I've often refrained from asking, particularly cab drivers, even though I'd really like to hear about where they're from (which is probably Indianapolis, given how they drive!)

Colin Smith said...

Janet: I really do understand why it can be an insensitive question. I had a conversation about this with my SecondBorn, who has Korean and Japanese friends. They tell her there really isn't any way you can ask this unless you know the person well. For them, they need to have that foundation of trust and acceptance before they'll talk about their cultural heritage in a way that's comfortable. And I totally understand. I'm curious if that's the universal feeling. What I find interesting is that as an immigrant from England, I don't feel that way at all. I'm more than happy to talk to anyone about being from the UK, etc. But, to be blunt, that's my white privilege. It's sad. I wish we could all embrace the rich cultural diversity in this country without anyone feeling like they don't belong, or like they have to work extra hard if they don't have white skin and English as their first language. But that's the world we live in. *sigh* :-\

Joseph Snoe said...

"Where are you from?" is not considered rude down here. Or, if it is, I'm in trouble.

AJ Blythe said...

I'm a Mrs, but don't really care what anyone calls me as long as it isn't intentionally rude.

Like Colin (must be that Aussie-British thing again) lots of my teachers were Miss, regardless of actual marital status. My kids still refer to all their female teachers the same way now. So for me "Miss" isn't necessarily a indication of singledom, it's as much a term of respect.

I'm not personally a fan of Ms - hate the way it sounds Mzzz (at least, that's how it sounds in Aussie).

Maybe it's a cultural thing, but for me addressing a letter Dear Janet Reid sounds odd. It would have to be Dear Ms Reid, or Dear Janet.

John Davis Frain said...

"Where are you from?" is one of the questions where you have to learn to put yourself in the recipient's shoes. Well, many of us have to learn that. Some of us know it because we wear those shoes.

If you get that question, you've probably had follow-up in at least a few cases that showed the true (snd unfortunate) reason people were asking. And once you've witnessed that a few times, the question thereafter becomes a little suspicious.

Nobody asks me "where are you from?" But more than once, one of my sisters has said, "Who raised you?"

Julie Weathers said...

I'm often asked where I'm from. I wasn't asked that when I was in Texas, but now that I'm in Wisconsin, people want to know. I don't take offense unless they follow it up with a mocking imitation of a southern accent. Even then I'm not really offended, just irked. Life's too short to be perpetually offended.

CynthiaMc said...

Wow. When did "where are you from?" become an evil thing?

I've been asked that all my life. We moved a lot, all over the world. I still get asked that. It never even occurred to me to be offended. It used to be considered polite to be interested in your fellow human beings.

I've talked to cab drivers all over the world. Our cab driver in London was married to a woman from Ohio. He asked us where we were from. Didn't even occur to us to say "How dare you?"

Talk to your cab drivers. They're people too.

Here in Orlando "where are you from" becomes "are you from here?" as in "I'm lost in tourist land, nobody else is from here and if you don't help me I'll never get out."

Colin Smith said...

Cynthia: That's the white privilege I talked about in my last comment. If English is your first language and you happen to look like a Western European, no-one's going to question whether you belong in the US, Canada, or the UK. "Where are you from?" = "Welcome to our part of the country--which part did you come from?" If you are not a native English speaker, and/or don't look Western European, that question is loaded with all kinds of suspicion. "You're not like the rest of us. Where do you come from? Do I need to be afraid of you? Are you here legally? Do you even understand what I'm saying?" and so on.

That's my understanding of why non-white people take offense at being asked this question by a stranger.

Mona Zarka said...

The thing with the "Where are you from?" question is that some people asking won't take "Here" for an answer (or whatever state or city or locale we identify with). They follow up with "Where are you really from?" or "Ok, but where are your parents from?" as if we aren't avoiding telling them just that. So I don't want to tell you. Ask me what I'm reading instead. I'm not trying to be rude, but I don't want to have that conversation right now, and that should be perfectly acceptable.

This video illustrates the frustration comedically:
"Where are you really from?"

Alina Sergachov said...

Mona Zarka: That's a great video! Thanks for sharing it with us. That's exactly what I meant.
P.S.- I liked Janet's version of the answer, too. Mars.

Mark Ellis said...

DLM, feel free to use overdrawn/cliche bank. Perhaps we can make it a new cliche :)

Alex Dook said...

My mum has numerous stories of rather condescending men ask her if she'd prefer to be referred to as Mrs or Ms - because, ya know, we don't want to *offend* you.

Her response is usually "Professor is ideal, but Doctor will be fine too."

Katie said...

I'm Ms.

Miss Whatever is if she's not married.

Mrs. HusbandName is for Mr. HusbandName's wife with the same last name.

I kept my last name. I'm not Miss. I'm not Mrs. -- she's my mother in law. I'm Ms. MyName.

JEN Garrett said...

Dear Janet Reid,
I know the right way to do it.
I know the polite way to do it.
But I never know if 'they' know it.

So, I'll just address with first and last name.
(and double check the spelling, because I don't want to offend.)