Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A gender-neutral courtesy title is needed for English

Just a thought as I slave away at the daily grindstone--it's high time that the English language had a gender-neutral courtesy title.

What is a courtesy title, you might ask? Examples: Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss, Dr. Used in business letters, such as, "Dear Dr. Smythe," or "Dear Ms. Hibsch."

The problem is that many people are of indeterminite sex. Someone named "Robin" or "Leslie" or "Pat" (or people from cultures where the names themselves are gender neutral, such as China)...if you aren't familiar in advance with what sex the person is, what do you do? Waste precious time trying to find out? Or simply go with "Dear Robin"? Which, in many cases, is not really appropriate. I've been known to just pick "Mr." or "Ms." randomly and hope for the best, but that's hardly a good solution. It's all a crock, and there is no real reason for keeping it this way other than that's the way it's always been done.

It would be far simpler, and would save a lot of time, to have a generic, all-purpose courtesy title available. It makes sense. The question is, what would it be?

The only time I have ever come across an idea in this regard was in a science fiction novel I read a long time ago, "Brightness Falls From the Air", by a woman using the pseudonym "James Tiptree, Jr." Her solution was "Myr" for the singular, and "Myrren" for plural. It sounds weird, but that's going to be true for any new language idea. Remember when using "bad" to mean "good" felt really bizarre? (Or choose your own example, based on whatever age and ethnic group you are in.)

Or else we could just start calling everyone "Dr."

Actually, that sort of leads to an interesting idea--rather than having the title refer to sex and marital status, have it refer to the person's professional status (which we are all totally obsessed with anyway). So anyone with a doctorate in anything would be "Dr." as now, but people with bachelor's degrees would be "Bch." Well, okay....maybe not. ;)


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