When you work with words, you want your words to work, to have specific meanings, to convey specificity and not some vague, broad brushstrokes of impressionism.
I still balk at the use of Ms. instead of Mrs. or Miss — though I actually prefer the AP Stylebook guideline of using no honorifics at all.
The stuffed shirts at The New York Times used the aspecific honorific in a story about a person — Is using the term person too specific and presumptuous? — in a Nov. 25 story, referring to Senia Hardwick on second reference as Mx. Hardwick. The Times also has a piece explaining the origin of the label Ms., which apparently was coined way back in 1901 by a lazy writer who wished to avoid having to ask about marital status. Back in June the Gray Lady introduced us to the origin of Mx.
“There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill,” the writer stated, according to the NYT, in a most politically incorrect fashion. “Every one has been put in an embarrassing position by ignorance of the status of some woman. To call a maiden Mrs. is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts.”
As if that weren’t bad enough, apparently the Washington Post style guru Bill Walsh has thrown in the towel and given the green light to using the plural third person pronoun “they” in place of “he” or “she.”
Poynter snagged this excerpt from a Post newsroom memo:
“It is usually possible, and preferable, to recast sentences as plural to avoid both the sexist and antiquated universal default to male pronouns and the awkward use of he or she, him or her and the like: All students must complete their homework, not Each student must complete his or her homework.
“When such a rewrite is impossible or hopelessly awkward, however, what is known as ‘the singular they’ is permissible: Everyone has their own opinion about the traditional grammar rule. The singular they is also useful in references to people who identify as neither male nor female.”
Apparently Walsh has been leaning this way for sometime. In November 2013 he answered a query about the use of the singular they thusly: “It’s natural, and well established in speech and informal writing, to use what we geeks call ‘the singular they’ in such cases. Each student should bring their book.
“For now, at least, that looks wrong to enough people that it might not be a great idea in more formal writing, but I’d wave a magic wand to make it uncontroversial if I could. The once-standard default to masculine looks sexist. The affirmative-action default to feminine looks patronizing. Alternating the two is silly and confusing. Inventing a new word isn’t going to happen (stop trying to make it happen!).”
I think Mx. is new, though not a word. Perhaps it would be less affirmatively human-centric if writers just opted for the pronouns “it,” “them” and “those.”