Mme, Mlle, Mrs, Miss, Ms

It’s way past time, but the French language police have finally determined that a word meaning “young female virgin” might be inappropriate on a job application. Happy to see them catching up to the 20th century (not knocking France – a wonderful country, except for those very uptight defenders of the language). Can’t find the news story, but here‘s a prior, albeit somewhat dated, one.

That story today reminded me of how our own efforts to replace the words “Miss” (unmarried female) and “Mrs” (married female) with the single designation of “Ms” (female), in order to align with the male “Mr” (which reveals nothing of that person’s marital status), went awry.

Instead of simplifying, we managed to replace the previous two  categories with three. The ladies are now classified as Mrs (she’s just a bit old-fashioned), Miss (such a shame dontcha know) or Ms (none of your fracking business). Of course, the men are still Mr (a male person – and that’s all the information you need so butt out.)


15 responses to “Mme, Mlle, Mrs, Miss, Ms

  1. French is a difficult language to be gender-neutral in because every noun has a ‘masculin’ or ‘feminin’ form, and every adjective must conform to the genderized form of the noun it is modifying. The male form «beau» and the female form «belle» in the French equivalent adjective for “beautiful”, for example.

    We have had set gender roles in our societies for so long that it is in our freaking languages. Not easy to uproot, at all.


    • You’re right of course – changes like these are the stuff of generations. Eventually we’ll get to genderless in Engish. Spanish, Italian etc have the same complication with gender forms – but they’ll figure it out eventually.

      Another pet peeve for me – saying “he or she’, ‘his or hers’ – we lack a gender neutral pronoun.


  2. From now on I’m “she”.


  3. No, that wasn’t clear but I’m on my 3rd Margarita. Rather than being “Ms, Mrs. or Miss” I prefer “She Woodstock” or “Madam Woodstock” enough with am I married, single or a feminist. I get different reactions to the title (always from men) in different parts of the country. Maybe we should just change it to “Master” for unmarried men…oh no, forgive me, that won’t work.


  4. The Japanese language has gender issues, to be sure, but I always liked the “-san” suffix at the end of someone’s name. Not only is it gender-neutral, but it avoids the sexism of the Miss/Mrs./Mademoiselle/Madame titles.


  5. Moe,

    OK, I have now found you and signed up to your blog. I am sure more will follow but for now just comment on this one.

    “Snarky” comes to mind as I read it, female kind of snarky. Just put your name on the application and don’t check the available boxes. Then if you are asked if you are a “female virgin” in an interview, sue them! Just have your IPhone tape recorder going.

    Who today cares about titles? They mean nothing. I have a couple of titles from my former professional lives but NEVER use them. “Hi, my name is Anson, now what are you looking for in a job applicant” If the interviewer asks how old I am or my marital status I would say “What difference does that make?” and would not be angry in the asking.

    Loosen up, Moe and maybe we can have some interesting political arguments that are far beyond cable news, which seems to be you intent and I love doing such things.

    Anson (from “over there”)


    • Well welcome anson, you’re as good as your word. As you’d expect, I think my point is a valid and serious one. Having lived a long life as a woman, I can attest to the visible discrimination in the workplace. It got very much better by the time I’d retired and to young women today it’s absent, just an historical artifact. But it really mattered. By the way, the failure I describe is one of language, not culture. And, in fact, as marketers or politicaions will tell you, language matters a great deal.

      As for the snarky, expect that! Snark is my mother tongue. 🙂


  6. I look forward to your comments Anson.


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  8. yesthatismyson

    I am continually surprised at how many people don’t know that Ms means equality! Some people even think its just for divorced women…shame


    • welcome Dad (? – making an assumpiton from your name here). Actually I’m not surprised – that it’s applied to divorced women,, that’s new to me and an even more aggregious perversion of the intent.


      • yesthatismyson

        No Im a mum, but yes someone in my family was surprised that I use Ms because apparently she could only use that because she was divorced and I was married! I’ve wanted to blog about this for a while but I don’t have the confidence you have yet 🙂


        • Well then, mum it is! Whenever I fill out a form somewhere it makes me crazy mad when I am required to choose from Mrs, Miss or Ms. AAAGGGGGHHHH!


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