You’ll remember that I wrote about my confusion over the disparagement of “Ma’am” as a form of address. Well, in England I’m apparently “Mrs. Erin Penner,” a term that I find really confusing (either Ms. Penner or Mrs. Sydney Penner, but Mrs. Erin Penner?). As far as personal tics go, “Mrs. Penner” always makes me feel a bit like a kindergarten teacher (always amusing), and I like “Ms.,” just because it has some of the simplicity that “Mr.” does, though I realize other people read this as a strong feminist streak coming through; in truth, I like “Ms.” because it means no one has to guess about my marital status or wonder whether “Sydney” is my name or my husband’s. My English bank cards read “MRS E PENNER”; who knew that banks cared about your title?
At any rate, I liked this recent post from Miss Manners on the subject:
“You cannot imagine — evidently — how weary Miss Manners is of hearing idiosyncratic interpretations of female terms of respect: “It makes me feel old,” ”It’s disrespectful to my husband,” ”My husband doesn’t own me,” and so on.
“These are courtesy titles, ladies (and no, please don’t tell Miss Manners how bad “ladies” makes you feel). They are not intended to characterize you, other than as a female who is due respect.
“The trouble is that there are too many of them. Uncharacteristically, etiquette has offered a choice.
“Bad idea. It has only led to squabbling when no insults were intended and declarations of feelings when no such outbursts were required.
“Funny — gentlemen just have “Mr.,” and yet most of them manage to open their mail without carrying on about how the envelope makes them feel.
“You are right that people should address you as you wish to be addressed, and that it is ridiculously complicated to find out, in each case, how that is. So a lot of tolerance is required when people guess wrong.
“Chances are that if the message isn’t insulting, the address is not meant to be, either.
“That’s why we prefer standardized etiquette rules, folks.”
As a side note, it appears that even “Mr.” can have its problems: when Sydney gets things addressed to “Mr. S. Penner” it often looks a lot like “Mrs. Penner.”