If you work at a job where you deal with customers or the public regularly, chances are you’re going to come into contact with nonbinary people and want to make sure that you use a respectful honorific.
The most popular alternative to ma’am and sir for nonbinary people is Mx, pronounced as “mix” or “mux.” However, the best thing to do is to talk to the specific individual and figure out what kinds of pronouns they prefer. However, Mx is used for forms such as driver’s licenses and other official documents, so it’s a good default until you learn more about the individual.
Let’s discover some of the history of Mx as a nonbinary honorific, when it’s appropriate to use it, and some of the other honorifics and pronouns a nonbinary person may prefer as an alternative for sir or ma’am.
Where Did the Pronoun Mx Come From?
The pronoun Mx dates back to 1977 when there’s printed evidence of the pronoun in use. It does not indicate a specific gender as the m is there to mirror Mr or Ms as short form pronouns, and the “x” is there to represent whatever gender an individual identifies as on the spectrum.
In the early 2010s, many government and official forms started to include Mx as an option for non-binary customers. This is true for mailing addresses, government agency documents like driver’s licenses, bank forms, and even applications to significant businesses. It’s usually for formal settings like these types of documentation, but you can also use it for people of a higher status.
Unfortunately, the term is not very common in the United States. It is included in the Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary but doesn’t seem to be in common use. In comparison, the United Kingdom tense uses Mx as an available pronoun and far more situations.
When is Mx Used?
Mx is a pronoun you can use when you don’t want to assume the gender of whatever you’re talking to. This is especially important for customer service and other services where you interact one-on-one with many different kinds of people.
If you don’t have a chance to know them beforehand, then it’s best not to assume that they fit into a specific gender binary by calling them ma’am or sir.
Other Nonbinary Alternative for Sir or Ma’am
While an Mx is the most common pronoun you’ll find, it isn’t the only one that non-binary people use. A few others that you should be aware of are:
It’s essential to know that there are these other non-gender-specific honorifics so that you can discuss with the particular individual which one they prefer. While Mx is a good go-to default, it is important to discuss with the binary individuals what kind of pronouns and honorifics are the most comfortable for them.
How to Address a Crowd or Group Without Using Sir or Ma’am
Mx is a fine term to use when addressing an individual, but what do you do if you’re addressing a crowd and don’t want to use sir and mam or ladies and gentlemen? Some of the most common terms to use instead are “distinguished guests” or “gentlepeople,” as this doesn’t bring in any kind of gender.
Read more about how to thank a crowd here.
Mx is the most common term to use as a nonbinary alternative to Sir or Ma’am. You can also use more general terms like distinguished guests or gentle people if you are referring to a crowd and want to keep it gender-neutral. However, the best thing to do is discuss with the nonbinary person what kind of honorifics and pronouns they are most comfortable with.
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