Q: Like many newspapers, ours has discontinued the use of all courtesy titles for women: Miss, Ms., Mrs. The rationale, which nearly all of us here in the newsroom agree with, was that the use of courtesy titles only for women was unfair.
Some of us, however, thought we could eliminate the discrimination by using "Mr.," as some large newspapers still do. Others thought this discriminatory, since men's titles don't indicate their marital status, but women's often do. Still others thought we should simply ask the person what he or she wants to be called.
A: Miss Manners has been in many such a journalistic battle, and keeps losing. She despises the custom of calling anyone outside of prep school by the last name only, and knows that many subjects and readers of newspaper stories do, too.
Omitting all honorifics is not only ugly, but can be extremely confusing. What do you do for second references in a story that mentions a married couple?
Yet she agrees that men and women should be treated by similar standards, and believes that asking each person's preference is impractical. One has to do that in social life, in these chaotic times, and it is nuisance enough. On a newspaper deadline, it would be ridiculous.
Besides, Miss Manners hopes she isn't giving away professional secrets by saying that newspaper stories are not always about people who cooperate in their writing. Her preference is to use "Mr." and "Ms." There are women who dislike "Ms.," and one does not so address them if one knows that, but it is the only solution that is correct without one's having to inquire into the lady's marital status.
Q: I am a retired lady who sometimes travels alone. How do I introduce myself when I must join a group of strangers -- for instance, when I first approach my assigned table on shipboard?
A: By name. Shipboard is one of the few public accommodations in which the roof, so to speak, is an introduction.
Therefore you behave as you would toward a fellow guest at a party when the hostess is absent, identifying yourself and giving some sort of unobtrusive opening that allows a conversation to begin: "My name is Hester Hepburn . . . Have you crossed on this ship before?"