November 2013


On politeness… and shifting linguistics.

Back in September while visiting my Mom, there was a brief conversation about how times have changed – with respect to women.

She observed that when she got married to my Dad that she adopted his name – and I do not just mean his surname, but his full name. When she filled out mail order forms, she put down “Mrs.” in front of his complete name and sent it off. Packages filled with seeds, shoes, and various other sundries were always delivered to the “Mrs.” version of my father’s full name.

At some point, though, that shifted – she started ordering things in her name and receiving packages in her name.

This got me thinking a bit: when my grandfather died, his wife – my grandmother – did not go back to using her name. No, I was told that I must keep writing to the “Mrs.” version of my grandfather’s full name – that she would be insulted if I used her first name in place of my grandfather’s first name.

Naturally I respected this wish – and didn’t really give it much thought.

Yet, in other contexts, I thought about it.

Back in high school I remember taking an English class that had a student teacher. One day, when the regular teacher was out, the student teacher was in control and, out of frustration, asked us why we were calling her “Miss” – we knew that she wasn’t married and that’s what we were doing.

“It’s old fashioned and wrong,” she ranted, or something to that effect.

“You should address all women as ‘Ms,’” she finished off.

We, the students in the class, pointed out that she had not been paying attention at all. She was student teaching for a 60-some year old woman who insisted upon (and I mean that she made it painfully clear) being called “Miss;” that the very woman she was working under did not, under any circumstance, want to be called “Ms.”

Naturally I’ve done my best to respect what the women I meet want to be called: Miss, Mrs., or Ms.

My default, though, is Ms.

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