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a title used before a man or woman's name as a gender-neutral (= not male or female) alternative to Mr, Ms, etc

'For those who don't feel Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms apply to them, the gender-neutral Mx could soon be more widely recognised – RBS will now officially use the title.'

Guardian 17th November 2014

Although language pedants might disagree, contemporary English has deftly handled one aspect of gender-neutrality through use of pronouns they/their, which have struggled their way into wider acceptance as an alternative to he/she, etc in order to avoid specifying the sex of who they refer to. And in 2015 it seems that aspirations of gender-neutrality have had a different lexical realization – one which will more than likely need to be equally tenacious – the new title Mx.

if the track record of Ms is anything to go by, Mx could take a very long time to be fully appropriated into everyday language, if ever

The word Mx is beginning to gain acceptance in the UK as a gender-neutral title that can be used in place of the gender-specific terms Mr, Ms, Miss or Mrs. As well as an option for people who simply don't want their gender to be revealed through a title, Mx is a new honorific aimed to be inclusive of an identity which isn't exclusively masculine or feminine, so intended for a person who might be described as non-binary, transgender or third gender. Also sometimes spoken out loud as 'Mixter' (presumably a fusion of mixed and mister), Mx follows the conventions set by Ms and can be pronounced by inserting a short vowel (something like 'mix'), or a schwa sound (i.e. 'mux').

One of the first reported uses of Mx was in Brighton and Hove in 2013, when the city council began to allow its use on forms. The term gained further exposure in late 2014 when it was adopted by the Royal Bank of Scotland, and in 2015 Mx was recognized more broadly across a range of national institutions in the UK, including Royal Mail, the National Health Service, the Department for Work and Pensions, and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. In May 2015 the title was given what many consider to be the ultimate seal of recognition by being approved as an addition to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Despite this level of recognition, if the track record of Ms is anything to go by, Mx could take a very long time to be fully appropriated into everyday language, if ever. Nevertheless, it's a great example of how language so interestingly reflects our changing perspectives on the world.

Background – Mx

Although the idea of introducing a gender-neutral title to replace Mr, Ms, etc might seem like a thoroughly 21st century concept, Mx is much older than it looks. Its first use allegedly dates back to the late 1970s, when it appeared in an American magazine called Single Parent. Its original use there was tied up in gender politics rather than transgender inclusivity, featured as a way of avoiding the sexism associated with titles Mr, Mrs and Miss.

The emerging use of Mx of course has parallels with the term Ms. Though associated with the 1970s and the rise of feminism, Ms is in fact several decades older and, according to US linguist Ben Zimmer, dates back to 1901, its coinage attributed to an anonymous writer in a letter to the editor of a Massachusetts newspaper. The writer proposed Ms as a way of filling a 'void in the English language', his motivations underpinned by etiquette, rather than feminism. Over a hundred years later and the 'void' is arguably still not filled, Ms continuing to be a title that some women are reluctant to use.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 1st December 2015.

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a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

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