July 2, 2006

Ms./Mrs./Miss.

What's with Hillary calling herself Mrs. Clinton?
Across the Capitol, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, is referred to as Mrs. Clinton at every roll call. Yet the women in the Senate are split: seven use Mrs., but the other six go by Ms., including three who are married: Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine; Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana; and Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan.
This is an old topic that you don't see discussed much anymore. I remember when "Ms." first came out -- both the magazine and the idea of coming up with a marriage-neutral form of address for women. Oddly, people eagerly adopted "Ms." It wasn't just a matter of acceding to feminist demands. It made life easier. People were already slurring "Miss" and "Mrs." together into "Miz" to cover up ignorance about a woman's marital status.

The linked article doesn't raise any of the old debates. It mostly just notes that women in politics have different preferences -- as between "Mrs." and "Ms.," that is. There's no discussion of whether any politician embraces the proud "Miss."

Yesterday, I was making a reservation at an American hotel, filling out the form on line, and I was surprised at the variety of forms of address I was offered to put in front of my name:
Mr.
Mrs.
Dr.
Miss
Ms.
Signor
Signora
Signorina
Signor e Signora
Dottore
Cavaliere
Avvocato
Ingenere
Duca
Duchessa
Marchese
Marchesa
Conte
Contessa
Barone
Baronnessa
Professore
Hey, no "Professor"! (And what's with all those Italian choices, giving the feminine version of everything but "Professore"?) So I went with the usual "Ms." Even when I was married, I couldn't use "Mrs.," because I never took on a new last name. "Ms." was a good convenience for a married woman who kept her maiden name.

But why not "Miss"? There's something delightfully imperious about Miss, something diva-ish for the older woman, don't you think? I like the sibilance. There's sibilance in Ms., but it's lazy sibilance. I like the crisp Miss. My mother used to call me "Miss Ann" sometimes -- probably if she thought I was out of line. That's a positive now. And then there's the Little Richard song:
Oh, oh, oh, Miss Ann, you're doin' something no one can,
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Miss Ann, you're doin' something no one can,
Because believin' and deceivin', it's drivin' me to grievin' now.
Ha ha.

55 comments:

PatCA said...

I think your hotel form looks like multiculturalism run amok.

reader_iam said...

I'm not one to get hung up on titles, period, but I did always prefer "Miss" to "Ms" throughout all the time that I was single (until my mid-30s). I still have my last name of origin, too, but in Iowa, in "private" life and the activities associated with it, everyone initially assumed that I had the same last name as my husband, so I get called "Mrs. X" in all of those contexts. Old friends and people for whom I do work use my "origin" name.

And you know what? I like it. As long as there's no attempt to deceive (when I need to clarify at the overlap, I'll use both), it's no problem, and I sort of like the separate spheres nature of it, where one part is none of the other part's business, except with people who are truly close.

In work and old-friends contexts, the honorific issue almost never comes up anymore. When it does, it seems that Ms. and Miss are selected in roughly equal proportion, with the latter having an edge in the Midwest/South and the former having an edge with coastal contacts. (Now, isn't that a touch telling?)

And my son has both of our last names (not hyphenated), so it all seems to work.

Call me what you want, just don't call me late to ...

Ann Althouse said...

Multiculturalism? More like some weird, crazy love for Italian aristocrats.

Dave said...

I think Hillary refers to herslef as Mrs. so she can count on the non-liberal vote.

Because you know if you're not liberal you are either owned by a man, or else you own a woman.

At least, that's what the hard-core lefties tell us when a woman is referred to as Mrs.

Buddy Larsen said...

Little Richard, I thought was a little nutz singing "Oh loose eel, wontcha please come home" but then Kenny Rogers came along singing "You picked a fine time to leave me loose eel" so I guess it was just me.

PatCA said...

I guess it is just Italian. Maybe they're part of an Italian company? They did omit Professoressa, I note.

Sexists!

Ruth Anne Adams said...

If you check in sans footwear, you should choose "Contessa", Professah.

tiggeril said...

"Miss Althouse, if you're nasty."

js said...

I learned this week via the OED that the proper way to pronounce Ms. is 'mistress.' Hello Mistress Althouse! Rowr!

Elizabeth said...

In this part of the south, Miss is frequently used, regardless of whether one's marital status is known. We routinely refer to someone a bit older than ourselves as Miss Ann. If I ask my students to refer to me with my first name, most of them then go with "Miss Beth." If I speak to the elderly, married woman down the street, I call her "Miss Helen." I use Ms. when an actual honorific is required, but I'm not offended by this cultural custom.

Ricardo said...

Your experience just points out how much the Europeans adore titles, even in this more egalitarian era. The Italians love aristocracy, the British are extremely class conscious, and when I lived in Germany some years ago, even the weatherman referred to himself as Herr Doktor Muller (because of his earned doctorate in meteorology). Me, I like being called Don Ricardo, even though it makes me sound like a bottle of rum, or a Cuban cigar. "I'll have a Don Ricardo, please."

Ann Althouse said...

I think Hillary's motivated to use Mrs. to contradict folks who think her marriage isn't real enough.

Brendan said...

Radio jock Mark Levin nails her best: Hillary "Rotten" Clinton, Her Thighness

reader_iam said...

Ann:

I think you're right.

jjv said...

If you check "Marchesa" do they check? I mean I know a lot of women who'd love to be called Marchesa so and so all weekend.

Buddy Larsen said...

I like Mark Levin--if it's the same Mark Levin who shows up on TV debating ACLU types--but I think campaigning against her thighs is pretty rude, and obscures that little stalinist chameleon problem.

Ann Althouse said...

Since most Americans are fat, I don't see how you can get far mocking someone for being fat. Most are fatter than Hillary, anyway. She's not that fat. Did you see Laura Bush in the white pantsuit she wore to Graceland? And Bush the President is getting pretty fat lately. They're all fat, the politicians and their associates. And so are the people who vote for them. And so are the guys who do radio shows mocking them, aren't they?

Ricardo said...

"I think Hillary's motivated ...."

One of the (many) problems of working in a cynical profession, is that one begins to view all of life through cynical eyes. What if she really just loves Bill, or she's proud of being a Mrs?

Ron said...

Contessa Althouse kicks ass!

Buddy Larsen said...

ron, so she does, and goodbye the last of that homemade vanilla in my freezer--

AJD said...

On a blog called Althouse, it apparently is never tiresome to throw red meat to the Hillary haters.

By your own claim, most of the married women in the Senate use "Mrs." So Hillary is doing what most woman in her position are doing.

So why single her out?

Obviously, you wouldn't be playing to your base by asking what's up with Elizabeth Dole calling herself "Mrs."

Mark the Pundit said...

Fräulein Althouse!

Mademoiselle Althouse!

Senorita Althouse!

Buddy Larsen said...

ajd, why not list the correct topics, so that the hostess will not commit any bourgeois errors in the future?

Kyda Sylvester said...

Hillary trades off Ms for Mrs and Rodham for Clinton (with and without the hyphen) as political considerations dictate and has done so throughout her marriage. In her first Senate campaign, uncertain of which way to go circumstances being what they were, she settled on Hillary!. Right now they dictate that she be Mrs. Clinton.

Jennifer said...

Is Avvocatoa tasty, Italian way of saying lawyer?

Oooh, I hope you picked that one.

Simon said...

Technically, could Olympia Snowe be called Mrs Snowe? Her husband, from whom that surname comes, is very much the late Peter Snowe, he having died in 1973. Since 1989, she has been married to fmr. Gov. Jock McKernan, so if she was Mrs anything, surely she should be Mrs McKernan? To avoid confusion, sticking with Ms. Snowe seems reasonable enough.

Richard said...

I noticed that one of the titles must trahslate to "engineer." I am a licensed professional engineer. In our culture that status does not come with a title used in social situations, but in many countries it does. I guess the Italians have extended this practice farther than anyone else.

garrison said...

In Italia everybody with a laurea (BA or BS) gets to be called dottore or less frequently today doctoressa. Any professional deserves professore. See the movie "Ciao Professore" which about an Italian elementary school teacher who is referred to by his students as professore as a matter respect.

Internet Ronin said...

If Michael Barone registers there, do you think he'll register as Barone Barone?

If I was a lawyer and represented the growers, I'd definitely register as Avocado Avvocato.

Buddy Larsen said...

(*groan*)
\;-D

Buddy Larsen said...

ever since around age 12 or so, I've found titular matters very interesting

Ann Althouse said...

Why single out Hillary? Because the NYT article did. Sheesh.

Palladian said...

Does anyone still use the old "Mrs. Bob Smith" form of address, where you completely remove the woman's name and refer to her by her husband's full name?

The Senate roll call should, as a joke, refer to her as "Mrs. William Jefferson Clinton" once, just to see what would happen.

The Drill SGT said...

Palladian said...
Does anyone still use the old "Mrs. Bob Smith" form of address, where you completely remove the woman's name and refer to her by her husband's full name?


The Germans certainly do. There the wife of a professor Kant who was also a doctor (MD) would use the title:

Frau Professor Docktor Kant

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ross said...

William Jefferson Clinton? Nah, 'Bill Rodham' sounds better. Heh.

David Manus said...

Dizzy Miss Hizzy?

Jennifer said...

Fo shizzy.

me said...

I don't like the custom of completely omitting the woman's name -- seems like it is just blotting out the woman's identity. When I address invitations I do "John and Jane Smith" unless the couple is over 60. I just recently got married and had the officiant announce us as "Jack and Jill Jones" instead of Mr. and Mrs. Jones. I don't have a huge thing about changing/not changing names, I was surprised that my husband cared but since he did I gave in gracefully -- I will use my last name as my middle name professionally, so people who already know me under the maiden name don't get too confused. As for Ms. and Miss, does anyone even notice the difference?:) I use Miss for any girl under 18 when addressing things, use Ms. after that, but when you say it there's not much of a difference.

betsybounds said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
betsybounds said...

She's going for the Mrs. Thatcher mantle. I would bet money on it. Woman, head of government, and wife. It will cover all the bases, from conservative to liberal and everything in between. Furthermore, it will work for her. No fool, she. I don't like her, but there you are.

Theo Boehm said...

After posting my last comment, it dawned on me that Hollywood perpetuated the custom at least until the 1960's of calling actresses and singers "Miss" despite marital status. On the other hand, principal actresses in the 18th century were frequently referred to as "Mrs." to give them an air of dignity, e.g., "Mrs. Cibber." The point is that in the distant past at least, "Miss" and "Mrs." frequently had more to do with status, and while marriage was a part of that, it didn't tell the whole story. From that standpoint, our 18th century ancestors would no doubt approve of the gravitas that the title "Mrs." imparts to Hillary Clinton, and would not be concerned in the least about the happiness or lack of it in her marriage. We would do well to adopt that attitude.

Buddy Larsen said...

well, one thing, with her as president we could count on the pervasive national moonbat screech to become a bluebird trill of happiness from sea to shining sea.

It'd be a relief, ceteris paribus.

mango said...

I use Elizabeth's Southern 'Miss' constantly in professional situations. I work in the theatre, and am a relatively young person, and it makes me uncomfortable to refer to older famous women by just their first names, but at the same time, we're on very familiar terms, so using their last name is awkward as well. Fortunately, being from the South, the Miss thing comes naturally, which makes everyone more comfortable.

M. Simon said...

Not married?

Missed.

M. Simon said...

For fat Italian Americans I like

Parmesianchesa.

M. Simon said...

Let us not slight the males:

Parmesianchese.

Pogo said...

With the Clintons, everything they do is so calculated, or rather, so many things are calculated that it's best to assume that everything is calculated,

The problem with Hillary's use of "Mrs." is its political meaning -for it must have one- and that makes this particular choice seem artificial. One gets the image that she ran this by friends, political analysts, and a focus group before choosing her title.

Makes one worry how she'd make decisions that ight actually affect someone else.

downtownlad said...

Why shouldn't she run it by focus groups.

We all know very well that Karl Rove would use it as a line of attack if she dared to use "Ms."

She has already been lambasted in the past for calling herself "Hillary Rodham".

Republicans have made this an issue, not Hillary. You can't blame her for trying to make a non-issue disappear.

Buddy Larsen said...

"Where'd you say we're going?"

"To be in a focus group."

"What're they gonna do?"

"They gonna focus."

"BOTH of us?"

Pogo said...

Re: "You can't blame her for trying to make a non-issue disappear."

Maybe. Or maybe her incessant 'trying' is the problem. There is the question of any true core to her. What does she really believe? What does she want to be called? Doesn't she have the guts to say, "I'm Ms. Rodham, and if you don't like it, you can stuff it."?

No. Instead we get the endless political machinations. She says whatever the winds tell her is the best, safest thing to say at the moment.

Reject the Koolaid said...

You should have signed up as Duchessa just for the hell of it. Maybe the service would be better.

i recently signed myself up as Reverend somewhere to see how the other half lives.

Ms. Deirdre Dashwood

downtownlad said...

What does she really believe?

If that's the criticism of her now, it's going to be really hard to cast her as a secret liberal in 2008. . .

Of course she has sincere beliefs. Belief #1 of course is getting elected. Just like every other politician.

Why act shocked?

Pogo said...

Re: "Belief #1 of course is getting elected. Just like every other politician."

I disagree; that's too cynical by half. A successful politician must of course have prominent the ability and desire to get elected. But primacy? That's for the small-minded. And I count Hillary among them.

Don Meaker said...

I used to use "Earl" at every opportunity. That would make my wife a Countess. Of course in the US there are no legal validity to any title, per the constitution. In the US he was Ronald Reagan. In the US he was Sir Ronald Reagan, and it was strictly honorable in the US, but strictly serious in the US.