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Miss-ing links

23 February 2012

Sabina Becker (News of the Restless) posted yesterday on  the demise of “Madamoiselle” on French bureaucratic forms, and “Fräulein” in everyday German usage, in favor of “Madame” and “Frau” when referring to women.

Both the French and German words for an unmarried female adult are diminutives of the forms used for married women (“Madame” and “Frau” respectively), as they are in Spanish… “Señorita” being diminutive of Señora.  While the change in French and German usage is largely fueled by concerns about sexism, in Spanish it is still considered more polite to the diminutive for women whose marital status is unknown, or irrelevant.

This will probably change if for no other reason, it’s too much keyboarding.  Writing a gender neutral document in a gendered language can be tedious on the typist.  Although one could get away with using the male form of compound nouns in the past, THAT is considered sexist now:  no one wants to put together, say,  an employee manual  is going to want to keep writing “todos los empleados y empleadas…” to mean all employees (male and female) when they can more easily type  “todos los empleado/as” and be done with it.  And, even the most old-fashioned of letter writers is going to being his/her business correspondence “Estimado Señor, Señora o Señorita”, when they save themselves a lot of keystrokes writing  “Estimado Señor/a”

In spoken conversation, “oh-slash-ah” is rather clumsy and other rules apply.   Oddly, the argument for referring to Mexican women as “Señorita” — the diminutive of “Señora” — is a feminist one,  although a very old-fashioned, odd form of feminism.  Traditionally, a woman’s status has been largely a reflection of her relationship to men, but also traditionally a married woman had to defer to her husband in business or financial matters.  To refer to any woman as “Señorita” is to imply she has the right to her own decisions… including whether or not to correct you by using “Señora”… or… in a society that, like the Germans, uses professional titles with abandon, “Arciteca”, “Licenciata”, “Doctora”, “Colonela”, “Presidenta”, etc…. which still leaves her marital status in doubt. As it should, having nothing to do with her status as an architect, executive or lawyer, doctor, military officer or president.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. JC Brown permalink
    23 February 2012 1:12 pm

    I was once introduced to an elderly hispanic lady and I referred to her as “Senora” and in very short time, both she and her companion that introduced us let it be known that she was, “Senorita”, as she had remained un-married for her life-time.

  2. 23 February 2012 8:47 pm

    Good info. Very impressive article. I have read each and every point and found it very interesting

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