Call Me What You Like, But Don't Call Me Late For Dinner.

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Call Me What You Like, But Don't Call Me Late For Dinner.

While visiting an online forum recently, which I do a lot these days, I was reminded of a problem that raises it's ugly head every so often, but which never gets any closer to being resolved, probably because nobody appears to be even looking for a solution.

That's a bit strange, because it's a problem that potentially could affect about half of the population, but that particular half of the population would probably say that it's precisely because it could potentially affect only that particular half of the population, that the other half doesn't consider it to be important enough to bother about.

That's also a bit strange, because that other half of the population is precisely the group of people likely to get it in the neck because the problem hasn't been sorted out.

OK, now I've made that perfectly clear, I'll try to explain the problem in a bit more detail.

One of the ladies on the forum commented that she didn't like people who didn't know her addressing her as 'Hun', and another lady replied that she didn't like people calling her 'Dear', because she felt it implied she was old. Having spent most of my life living in an area where, unless it was a male addressing another male, just about everyone called just about everyone else 'Dear' in informal situations, I felt obliged to reply, and I did so, as follows.

If I met you, and didn't know you, it's quite possible I would say "Hello, dear". The reason being that some ladies object to being called Madam or Miss, and insist on being called Mizz, or Ms, while some are exactly the opposite, and as I have no way of knowing, and no real interest in finding out, what a strange woman's marital status or preferred mode of address is, because it's actually none of my business, I would use the form of address that women never used to complain about years ago - 'dear'. In 42 years of dealing directly with customers in their homes, the vast majority of them being women, I never had a single complaint or grumble about it from any of the women I addressed as dear.

It doesn't mean I'm in any way putting down the woman, or trying to get fresh with her, or anything else, and if you saw some of the customers I used to address as dear that would be absolutely obvious. Round here it's simply a friendly form of greeting, with no hidden meanings, and just to set the record straight, apart from some young women who think they're a cut above the rest, and the occasional feminist, most women here use exactly the same expression when addressing both men and women.

This is one area where, if all women really do object to being addressed in a friendly way by someone who is ignorant of their preferred form of address, they need to get together and decide on one universally acceptable term for ALL women to be addressed by, regardless of age or marital status, and then insist that government departments, and all official and business institutions use that, and no other, and when that's done, we'll know exactly what to call them.

By the way, before you decide, my wife will scratch out the eyes of any woman who insists that she has to be called Miss, or the absolutely horrible Mizz, as she has said many times. She is a married woman, and proud of it, and insists on being called Madam or Mrs. And just for the record, despite that, she has absolutely no objection to being addressed as dear, by males or females.

So come on ladies, how can we infallibly know how to address you?

If you can't tell us, how are we supposed to know?

At the time of writing this, no solution to the problem has been offered, but it is something that really should be sorted out.

A male starts off being formally referred to, at least here in the UK, as Master Jones, or whatever his surname is, and at around the age of 16 or so he becomes Mister Jones. There's no great problem knowing how to address him formally, because if he looks big enough to give you a whallop if you're wrong, he's definitely old enough to be called Mister. A younger male won't object to being called Mister anyway, so you can start using that as early as you like. The only possible problem is if you start using Mister too late.

There is, in fact, a good case for using Mister to formally address a male from birth to death, which would be quickly accepted by all as an obvious change for the better.

In informal situations, if you use common sense and a bit of discretion, you can fairly safely address a male you don't know by a large number of non specific names, such as sir, mister, mate, buddy, dude, feller, and so on. Here in Suffolk, in England, calling a male person of any age, even an extremely elderly man, boy, bor, or buh, which are all ways to say the same word, is perfectly acceptable in almost all cases, but I would strongly advise against using 'boy' in the USA, where apparently it has racist overtones that could seriously offend some people. If you're really unsure, just use Sir or Mister, which are respectful, and should be reasonably safe in all situations.

So that's males sorted, but it's not quite so simple with females, and it has recently got more complicated.

In the real 'Old Days', females started off being formally referred to as Miss. If a woman married, she was then referred to as Mrs, which is short for Mistress (which now has an altogether different meaning, of course). Unmarried women past the age when they were likely to marry were, for courtesy, also referred to as Mrs or Mistress.

In the more recent 'Old Days', from about the mid eighteenth century onwards, unless they married, women remained Miss for life. If a woman married, she was of course referred to as Mrs, or Mistress, and apart from the fact that Mistress is no longer used for married women, that is still the case today.

It wasn't difficult to work out how to address a woman. If she was wearing a wedding ring, she was addressed as Mrs, and if not, she was Miss. It was all nice and simple, until the 'Permissive Society' came along and messed everything up.

Nowadays, a female starts off as Miss, and becomes Mrs if she marries - usually.

Some unmarried women don't want to announce the fact that they are unmarried, so someone invented the horrible term Ms, or Mizz (or maybe that should be Muzz, I don't know) for people to use to refer to them. That's fine, it's their choice, and if that's what they want to be called, so be it.

Some married women don't want to announce the fact that they are married, so they also want to be referred to as Ms or Mizz. That's fine too, and again, if that's what they want to be called, so be it.

So a woman can choose to be referred to as Miss, Ms, or Mrs. OK, that's fair enough, but how do we know which term we should be using for any particular woman?

Mrs should present no problem, because she will be wearing a wedding ring, won't she? Well, not necessarily, because as mentioned above, some married women don't want to announce the fact that they are married, but that isn't too much of a problem, because those ones won't want to be referred to as Mrs anyway.

OK, so if she's wearing a wedding ring, it's fairly safe to assume she wants to be called Mrs, even if she's not married.

Now it gets more complicated.

If she's wearing a school uniform (stop it !) and is actually going to school, without make up, and with a chest you could use as an ironing board, it's probably fairly safe to call her Miss, but be very, very careful. Apart from that, DON'T ASSUME ANYTHING, because it just isn't safe to do so.

As a mere male, I'm reluctant to offer advice to any woman, but perhaps you ladies who want to be called Ms would be kind enough, pretty please with a cherry on the top, to consider this idea, which you can claim as your own if you wish.

Women who wish to be referred to as Ms or Mizz could wear a ring, or some other wearable item, of a specific type and colour of their choice that's pleasing to them all (but to avoid confusion if the chosen item is a ring, isn't plain gold), to indicate their wish to be referred to in that way.

It's that simple, ladies. Decide amongst yourselves what you wish to use as a symbol of your preferred status, and let us all know. We'll be more than happy to refer to you as Ms, and extremely relieved to know that we will no longer be in danger of getting in trouble over it, ever again.

On the other hand, if you choose not to give us some kind of clue about how you want to be addressed, at least please have the decency not to bitch at us when we get it wrong.

Unlike you ladies, we men are not mind readers.