Feminine Honorifics and Feminism at the Door, Vol. 4, Issue 21

Dear Etiquetteer: What is one to do nowadays with the titles Miss, Ms. and Mrs.? As a married professional in my late twenties, I prefer "Ms." (although I’m technically a "Mrs"). My single friends prefer "Ms." as well, and feel that being addressed as "Miss" places them among the ranks of 8-yr old Girl Scouts. My elderly great-aunt, however, would be offended by "Ms." and prefers "Miss" over all else.Your recommendation, kind sir? Dear Madam: As always, Etiquetteer recommends that you use Perfect Propriety when continuing to address friends and colleagues. Continue to refer to your Great-Aunt Agatha as "Miss Agatha Auntie" and to your professional friends as "Ms. Prunaprismia Professional." Either is correct, and therefore Perfectly Proper.As for you, madam, Etiquetteer feels bound to inform you that the honorific "Mrs." is really only used with Perfect Propriety with one’s husband’s name. If you took your husband’s name at your marriage, you would be correctly known as "Mrs. John Husband." If you hyphenated, "Mrs. John Maiden-Husband" or "Ms. Wifey Maiden-Husband" would be equally correct. If you kept your own name without making any concession to your husband, you could not then change your honorific; only "Ms. Wifey Maiden" would be correct.

Dear Etiquetteer: I have a problem now that same-sex couples can get married and some are switching to the same last name. Ho do you address women in formal correspondence? When men are a couple -- married or not, same last name or not -- you can address them in the plural as "Messrs," as in "Messrs. Smith" or "Messrs. Smith and Jones." When women are a couple with different names you can address them as Ms. Smith and Ms. Jones, but is there a plural when they take the same last name? What is the proper way in formal correspondence to address a female couple with the same last name? Thank you.Dear Correspondent:As "Messrs." abbreviates the French "Messieurs," so does "Mmes." abbreviate the French "Mesdames." So you may begin formal correspondence as "Dear Mmes. Smith" or "Dear Mmes. Smith and Jones." Really, Etiquetteer does not see why not. Of course, this all falls to the ground if the ladies in question have political or academic titles. Then you would use "Dear Senator Smith and Ms. Jones" or "Dear Senator Smith and Dr. Jones."

Dear Etiquetteer: Regarding the act of holding open doors: did a memo go out saying this is passé? I can't count how often people let doors slam in my face, yet I'm just a step or two behind them. But I digress . . . My real question is a matter of distance. Have you ever gotten caught in that time warp of holding open a door for a person who is further away than they might have initially appeared, only to have them either apologetically run up to you or continue to dilly-dally? Or, ever let the door close behind you, only to feel somewhat guilty that you didn't hold it for the person trailing behind you? Is five feet far enough? Ten feet? At which point can you feel no remorse in not holding the door?Dear Floored and Ignored at the Doorway:Chivalry is not dead, rumors to the contrary, but the feminism of the mid-century has altered it significantly. These days Chivalry honors seniority (either professional or chronological) rather than gender. It's more usual now for someone to hold the door for the boss, or for younger people to offer this courtesy to the elderly. (But be careful; you remember what happened to Edna Ferber when she held the door for Dorothy Parker? As she opened it she said "Age before Beauty." Miss Parker sailed right past her muttering "Pearls before Swine" in her usual self-satisfied way.)Now that we've each had our digression, let's continue . . . Etiquetteer absolves you from any remorse in letting the door shut if the people for whom you are holding it are in no hurry to get there. To rephrase your question, Etiquetteer would advise you not to start holding the door if someone is more than 15 feet away. And if someone lets the door bang you in the face again, Etiquetteer gives you permission to launch into full Marcia Brady mode: "Oh my nose! Oh my nose!"

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at query@etiquetteer.com!

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