Sunday, 7 August 2011

Whm Bm Thk U Mrm (a quickie)

Some time ago on this blog I mused on whether the linguistic experiment of adopting gender-neutral pronouns, such as 'hir', 'ze' and 'Mx' might not be extended by the adoption of a gender neutral equivalent of 'Sir' or 'Ma'am'. Such a word, especially if we worked hard to get it into general use, would fulfil the function of allowing non-binary or genderqueer trans people, as well as binary-identified trans and cis people who prefer to use gender-neutral speech, a polite way of addressing each other; give us a term of address we could request people to use when speaking to us; and also furnish us with a word we could use when interacting with people of whose gender identity we are unaware (in telephone conversations, say).

It occurred to me today that we could designate the neologism 'Mrm' (pronounced 'Mirm') to serve this function. Visually the word echoes the form of the existing binary terms 'Mr' &; 'Mrs', but the ending in 'm' confounds this expectation. Verbally the word begins and ends with the pleasing, bosomy 'm' consonant, but interpolates the sound of the male honorific 'Sir'. This 'ir' sound also rhymes with 'er', the universally recognised expression of uncertainty, symbolising the fact that use of this term brings the certainties of binary gender into question; and also with 'ur', the prefix denoting the primordial form of a text or language, which may perhaps be thought to gesture in the direction of the fact that gender exists in an undifferentiated form prior to social constructs being imposed on it. Though this last reference (to 'ur') might be an example of the author of this piece lapsing into pretension, a fact possibly not unrelated to the fact that ze happens to be watching Peter Greenaway's 'Vertical Features Remake' while typing.

Perhaps most crucially, 'Mrm' sounds fun, and has that silly, hat-doffing, Jimmy Stewart, vintage character which the ostentatious use of polite forms of address in an aggressively, compulsorily informal society like ours tends to accrue. I have always enjoyed addressing people (where I can be sure of their binary identity) as 'Sir' or 'Ma'am' (rather than the ubiquitous 'mate') in much the same way that some people enjoy wearing forties dresses or co-respondent shoes. It's a form of verbal burlesque, a bit of pantomimic play. 'Mrm' extends this field of play by introducing a term for people who don't fit the gender binary, or for the use of people who have no desire to use terms which reinforce said binary.

I therefore submit 'Mrm' for the consideration of all those who wish to make use of language as a tool for undermining binary gender norms. Have fun using it, gentlebeings.

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