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  • ‘Mx’ – a new gender-neutral title

    Posted by on May 25, 2015

    © PHOTODISCMost people find that they fit readily into one of the common titles Mr, Ms, Mrs or Miss, even if they consider them unnecessary. Ms as a female equivalent of Mr – a title that does not mark marital status – is little more than a century old but is now thoroughly established in standard usage. Of course, it should be used right, not simply in opposition to Mrs.

    But this array of options is still inadequate, because not everyone falls neatly into the binary model of gender. In official contexts we tend to categorise people as male/female, married/unmarried, ignoring the often more complex realities of identity. And just as Ms enables women not to indicate their marital status, an emerging title allows people not to indicate their gender: Mx.

    Mx has been around since 1977 at least, and its increasing use – including in official contexts – means it is now a candidate for inclusion in dictionaries. An editor at the OED recently said they may add it soon. Macmillan Dictionary has already done so, following a submission to its crowd-sourced Open Dictionary. To date, Mx has been accepted by various local councils, universities, banks, law societies, the Royal Mail, and government services such as the NHS and HM Revenue and Customs. Clearly it is gaining momentum.

    Mx has been adopted by many people who don’t identify as female or male. (Non-binary people can complete a survey on the topic here.) Such preferences should never be assumed – for example, it’s not obligatory for transgender people, but rather an option they may or may not find suitable. Speaking of preferences, Mx is usually pronounced ‘mix’ or ‘mux’, the latter reflecting a sort of stressed schwa, like the options for Ms. When I asked about it on Twitter, Mx-users confirmed both pronunciations. I’m grateful to everyone who joined in that discussion.

    During Macmillan Dictionary’s focus on gender in English in 2011 I noted that deliberate attempts to engineer the language are rarely successful, since the number of people using it is vast, and everyone makes their own decision. (Yes, their.) But with enough support and awareness, conscious linguistic changes can and do happen en masse. The slow but inexorable shift away from sexist language shows it to be possible – and sometimes necessary.

    In 1973 Susan Sontag described language as ‘the most intense and stubborn fortress of sexist assumptions’. Things have improved since then thanks to the efforts and arguments of feminist researchers who highlighted the prejudice inherent in usages like generic he and man. But discriminatory and exclusionary gender-based language remains prevalent, and should be challenged.

    Mx has several other meanings, as Nancy Friedman notes, but the letters’ new use strikes me as very apt. The x can work as a kind of wild card, as it does in many other contexts, and Mx itself feels both modern and timeless. If it seems strange at first, it shouldn’t take long to get used to. Like Ms before it, Mx may well become an everyday part of English and a significant player in collective efforts to reduce the normative bias implicit in language.

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  • Henry’s social media musings – political language

    “Despite the best efforts of the ‘milifandom’, Labour couldn’t triumph in the UK election – largely thanks to the ‘ajockalypse’ – and now a ‘Brexit’ looks likely.” Did that all make sense to you? I’d guess probably not. But you won’t be the only one saying that, trust me. It’s been a heavy few weeks […]

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  • Language and words in the news – 22nd May, 2015

    This post contains a selection of links related to language and words in the news. These can be items from the latest news, blog posts or interesting websites related to global English, language change, education in general, and language learning and teaching in particular. Feel free to contact us if you would like to submit a link […]

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  • Being an archaeodialectologist

    We are pleased to welcome back to the blog David Crystal, the renowned linguist, writer, editor, lecturer and broadcaster. Professor Crystal’s new book The Disappearing Dictionary is published on 21st May by Pan Macmillan. ___________ In the days when I edited The Cambridge Encylopedia, this is how my archaeology contributor defined his subject: ‘the study of […]

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  • Language tip of the week: secret

    In this weekly post, we bring more useful content from the Macmillan Dictionary to English language learners. In this series of  language tips we look at how metaphor is used to express some common concepts in English. This week’s tip looks at metaphors used to talk about keeping and revealing secrets: To keep something secret […]

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  • Language and words in the news – 15th May, 2015

    This post contains a selection of links related to language and words in the news. These can be items from the latest news, blog posts or interesting websites related to global English, language change, education in general, and language learning and teaching in particular. Feel free to contact us if you would like to submit a link […]

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  • Language tip of the week: pavement

    In this weekly post, we bring more useful content from the Macmillan Dictionary to English language learners. These tips are usually based on areas of English which learners find difficult, e.g. spelling, grammar, collocation, synonyms, usage, etc. This week’s language tip helps with the differences in meaning of pavement in American and British English. In […]

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  • This ever-changing language in which we live in

    In a recent post on double negatives I said we make allowances for non-standard grammar in song lyrics – or most of us do, most of the time. But some lines still give us pause. One source of frequent dispute is the Paul and Linda McCartney song ‘Live and Let Die’, famously used in a […]

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  • Language and words in the news – 8th May, 2015

    This post contains a selection of links related to language and words in the news. These can be items from the latest news, blog posts or interesting websites related to global English, language change, education in general, and language learning and teaching in particular. Feel free to contact us if you would like to submit a link […]

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  • Language tip of the week: win

    In this weekly post, we bring more useful content from the Macmillan Dictionary to English language learners. In this series of  language tips we look at how metaphor is used to express some common concepts in English. This week’s tip looks at metaphors used to talk about winning: Winning a competition or game is like […]

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  • Don’t shoot the messenger

    In a previous post, I tried to show that it is perfectly natural and acceptable to say he shot dead his girlfriend as well as he shot his girlfriend dead, in spite of the fictional Professor Pedanticus’s claim that the use of the first pattern by the BBC is not only very annoying, but has […]

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  • Language and words in the news – 1st May, 2015

    This post contains a selection of links related to language and words in the news. These can be items from the latest news, blog posts or interesting websites related to global English, language change, education in general, and language learning and teaching in particular. Feel free to contact us if you would like to submit a link […]

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  • Language tip of the week: interested

    In this weekly post, we bring more useful content from the Macmillan Dictionary to English language learners. In this series of  language tips we look at how metaphor is used to express some common concepts in English. This week’s tip looks at metaphors used to talk about being interested: Being interested in something is like […]

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Recent Comments

Recent Comments
  • Posted by John Cowan to Litotes is no small matter on May 21, 2015 I quite agree that ____ing is harmless.

  • Posted by Stan Carey to Litotes is no small matter on May 21, 2015 John: Yes, it's fine for me – and, I suspect, for any Irish English speaker. No harm in __ing is fine here too, but I favour the infinitive form.

  • Posted by Stan Carey to This ever-changing language in which we live in on May 20, 2015 Gill: That's really interesting – and it proves, as you say, that it's often not about changing direction mid-utterance. As regards redundancy it reminds me a little of how we say things like 'the reason is because', and even 'the reason why is because', as though intuiting that the more basic structure ('the reason is that') doesn't sufficiently convey the intended meaning. In your examples, maybe the earlier preposition is motivated by the traditional syntactical 'rule'...

  • Posted by John Cowan to This ever-changing language in which we live in on May 19, 2015 McCartney doesn't much care about the exact content of lyrics: he is all about singability, period, as in the notorious case of "Yesterday", which began life as "Scrambled eggs / Oh my baby how I love your legs". (A friend of mine used to sing it with the line "I'm not half the man I used to be" an octave too high and in falsetto voice.)

  • Posted by John Cowan to Litotes is no small matter on May 19, 2015 Is it idiomatic for you to follow no harm by the infinitive? For me, no harm pretty much has to be followed by in and the -ing form: no harm in bringing in the clothes anyway.