Language is a funny, constantly evolving beast. The dictionary has undergone countless revisions to accommodate our expanding nomenclature, and the birth of the online dictionary has significantly sped up the process of accepting new words. One word you might have seen floating around recently is “Mx.” Mx. (pronounced “Mix”) is an honorific title, like Mr., Mrs., Ms., and Miss. that has been accepted by major language officials and dictionaries within the past few years.
Merriam-Webster named it one of their “Words We’re Watching” (other words include optics, ship, and unicorn), and describe it as a gender-neutral honorific.
There was some excitement over Mx. when it came to the attention of marketers. Finally, there was a gender-neutral term that can be used on Taylors, Jamies, Alexes, and other gender-neutral names the world over! Except, that’s not exactly what it’s used for.
The Evolution of Mx.
According to The New York Times article, “Me, Myself and Mx.” the first printed use of Mx. came in 1977 in the magazine, The Single Parent, and was used to combat gender bias. “[M]aybe both sexes should be called Mx.,” the Single Parent article says. “That would solve the gender problem entirely.”
Because of its universality among sexes, the term quickly changed in the ‘80s into a title used to address people whose gender was unknown (and therefore an address for both genders, rather than being genderless), as internet chat rooms and other digital communications made it difficult to know a person’s gender.
Now, Mx. is a title preference used predominantly by the LGBTQ community and activists. It is most recognized as a title that signifies an individual’s decision to not identify as either male or female, rather than a title that applies to all people.
Where Mx. is Used Now
While there’s evidence of this title going back to 1977, the title didn’t become popular until recently, and even then, it’s mostly in Europe. Our British friends list Mx (notice: they don’t use a period after their honorific titles) as an option on official documentation like driver’s licenses and banking documents.
Marketers need to keep in mind that a person choosing Mx. as a title is doing so as their way of deliberately saying, “I do not identify as fully male or fully female.” It’s not a way for the person communicating to them to say, “I don’t know if you are male or female.” Essentially, Mx. has gone from a title meant to deliberately convey ambiguity to a title that signifies a specific preference about gender presentation. If you were to refer to someone as Mx. today, you would be demonstrating an assumption about how the person views their gender and their title/pronoun preferences rather than using it because you don’t know their gender.
The takeaway here is this: use the title the person prefers, or skip the title altogether. Of course, as time has shown us, that’s not to say that rule can’t change in the future—like I said, language is a funny, evolving beast.
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