Why Ms Clinton instead of Mrs Clinton?

Yes. The way to remember this was “Don’t take away the widow’s memory of her departed husband and don’t remind the divorcee of her ex.”

Once we go to M. or Mx., why use it at all?

I might enjoy being called Professor Doktor Frau Professor Doktor S.

No, still not quite there. I used to own a couple of newspapers. Standard procedure in such a case is to use whichever the subject is known to prefer. Looking at her wiki - I would in no way encourage you to use The Washington Examiner as a reliable citation - it appears that for a long spell she preferred to just be referred to as ‘Hillary Clinton’ or ‘Hillary Rodham’ or ‘Hillary Rodham Clinton’ at various times. But in 2015 she requested that she be referred to as just ‘Hillary Clinton’.

In other words, it is her choice and reputable media outlets will use whichever she’s known to prefer.

This ties in well with a Straight Dope column from 1986 on the spelling of Moammar Quaddafi’s last name. In the end, of course, once it was known he had a preferred spelling and usage, most wire services began using that. But barring any clarity it’s anyone’s game.

I think maybe to cover those circumstances where the person’s first name is unknown. Referring to Chris Smith as M. Smith or Mx. Smith seems more respectful than as simply Smith.

I’m old enough to remember when Ms. was first proposed. For quite a few years I’d correct people who used the Miss or Mrs. honorific by saying, “It’s Ms. Middon.”

Which frequently was replied to with, “Oh, you’re one of those women’s libbers.” It’s impossible to overstate the amount of scorn in some of those voices.

Older male. When I was a kid “Master” was used in formal settings for male children. I’m not sure when the cutoff was since I never had the opportunity to find out for anyone near 18. Had nothing to do with marriage.

That makes sense.

I think that, in those cases where “master” is used for a young man, the cutoff is when he’s still living in the same household as his father. That way, you can distinguish between Mister Smith, the father, and Master Smith, the son. Once the son moves out, or the father dies, Smith Jr. is now the master of the household, and so ceases to be “Master”, and becomes “Mister”.

But I also think that the period when there was such a distinction was probably pretty short, since “Mister” is itself a variant form of “Master”.

I grew up in the same time period. It has never meant “divorced,” but my personal exposure to it was such that it was mostly divorced women who kept their married names that used it around here, so I can understand the misunderstanding. Googling, it seems many people share that misapprehension, so it’s not an uncommon mistake. But, no, it’s always been explained to me that it was just a marital-status-neutral way of referring to a woman, much in the way that “Mr.” does not indicate marital status.

12-18. In the US. And I’ve only ever seen lawyers do it.

As I understand it, Ms. is preferred because it removes the element of marital ownership from the address. It basically says, “Look, babe, I have no interest in your marital status. It’s business time.” But it still attaches gender. The only alternative I’ve seen in professional correspondence has been to just go for the first name (Dear Pat.) which is too familiar for my taste. Is there another genderless alternative out there?

So many nits are getting picked in this thread we can make nit jelly!

In academia, the default for someone you don’t know is “Dr.”. It’s often correct, it avoids gender issues, and even if it’s wrong, it’s very unlikely that anyone will be offended by it (but some folks might be offended by the lack of it).

Yeah, my reply to those scornful remarks was usually “Damn straight, Charlie.” Might as well set the record straight about who you are right away.


It’s a perfectly good word that fits well with the current zeitgeist.

When I was in college in the early '70s I had an internship at a local daily (a small one). I lobbied hard for the use of “Ms.” rather than “Mrs.” in all cases. (Yes, I still thought I knew better than anyone, just so we’ve got that out of the way.) So in one of the issues I worked on there is a group of women who are identified as “Ms. John Smith,” “Ms. George Jones,” and so on–which is the wrong, wrong way to use it, and whoever wrote that caption knew it. Really pissed me off.

ETA: But within a couple of years they were doing it the right way so I won in the end.

As someone who is British and (I reluctantly suppose is) middle-aged, the whole matter is slightly baffling. For I cannot remember the last occasion when I ever used Mr/Miss/Mrs/Ms on anything. Arguments about the correct usage is, at this point, surely irrelevant. You might as well be wondering about whether to append “Esquire” (even if some people do insist).

Or, tovarishch, if we want to go with the original Russian. :smiley:

Maybe you never have to message a complete stranger in a business or professional context. In such cases it’s still safer to start an e-mail with a Mr. or Ms. until you’ve received a reply, especially if it might be someone older. Especially among older African-Americans it ca pay to be extra polite until you’ve established a relationship.

This is what I thought.

Holy crap.

I see that.

Agreed. Thanks to everyone’s input. I vow to be more accurate in the future on its use.

This made me laugh. I distinctly remember that too. Both sides.

Because there are still a few situations and people for whom a certain degree of formality is called for. I wouldn’t address someone about a job as “Jim” or “Smith” until we have established a relationship.

She was also Secretary of State, so Secretary Clinton would also be correct. Ether could be used, to avoid the arguments about which outranks the other: SoS is a single, national office, but it’s appointed vs. Senator being elected by thousands of voters in your state.

Decades ago, I helped maintain a mailing list for an international computer language group. We decided that we would maintain only the addressees name, no titles. Long enough ago that our data base was limited; data entry was done on punched cards. That turned out to be a contensious decision; most of our group was academic, many from locations where these titles were important, and they didn’t like not using the full, correct title. (We used to get overseas change-of-address notices going from Associate Professor John Smite to Assistant Professor John Smith – at the same address.)

If I see it now, I need to decide if it’s an antiquated format for a male child under 18 or for someone into a sexual fetish most decidedly not for a child under 18!

It’s SteinEM, not Steinman.