Most 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.Email this Post
From an article in yesterday’s San Gabriel Valley Tribune, via Melissa Masatani on Twitter:
“When I first found out about ‘Mx.’ I was so happy… It’s a way to be myself without being forced to pick a side by using “Mr.” or “Ms.”
[…] ‘Mx’ – a new gender-neutral title […]
[…] I have two new posts up at Macmillan Dictionary Blog. The first is about a term you might not be familiar with but whose profile seems certain to grow: Mx – a new gender-neutral title. […]
The emphasis on Mx. as a title for non-binary people I think misses the point. After all, Ms. is not a title for people who are ambivalent about their marital status, it’s for people who don’t see why they should disclose it when they list their preferred title. Likewise, Mx. is a title for people who don’t see why they should disclose their gender.
I made more or less the same point in paragraph 2, John: “Just as Ms enables women not to indicate their marital status, an emerging title allows people not to indicate their gender: Mx.” But the reasons people use Mx are sometimes less clear-cut than you may suppose, so the parallels with Ms are valid only in certain respects and to certain extents. There’s a good discussion here about the use of Mx by people who identify as male or female.
…but how is Mx. pronounced out loud? As an ESL teacher, I think it would be good for me to know, just in case a student asks me!
I describe the pronunciation in paragraph 4, Sabrina; you must have missed this part of the post. It’s also occasionally said as an initialism (’em ex’), but the one-syllable forms I describe are apparently more usual.
[…] If you ever wondered what “Mx” meant – as in the courtesy title, “Mx Pat Smith” – you can now look it up. Stan Carey at Sentence First writes that the dictionary for which he works, Macmillan, has created an entry for it for the first time. […]
I’m one of the earliest users of the transgender title Mx or Mix, and I have written by far the longest and most comprehensive article about it (November 15, 2015). Most of the points mentioned in the comments here are discussed in the article, usually at length and in considerable detail.
Thanks Margaret. The article can be found here.
Hi Margaret. Thanks for the link to your article, which I look forward to reading later. Note that Mx as a gender-neutral title does not yet appear in the OED. It was added to Oxford Dictionaries Online, aka OxfordDictionaries.com, which is not an online version of the OED. As I understand it, the OED is considering Mx for inclusion in a future update.
I’d say the best way to talk about this title is something like “Mx or Mix is a non-binary transgender title.” This way of describing it is well backed-up in the main article and its five appendices.