Salutations for Women: Miss, Ms., or Mrs.?

In the spirit of Word Wednesday, let’s look at the correct way to address women in professional correspondence. The following is a message I sent to my alma mater in response to a card I received for my annual donation:

Dear [redacted]:

It was a pleasure to receive the goody bag from UT for my donation, but I was a little troubled to be addressed as “Mrs.” Sharma. Considering that my professional relationship with UT predates my marriage and that my employment–not my husband’s–provides me the resources to make an annual donation to my alma mater, I found this reference to my marital status unwelcome and unnecessary.

While I speak for myself alone and not for any other women Longhorn donors, it is a sad fact of our society that as a woman working in a STEM career in a male-dominated environment, I have had to work to overcome a perceived lack of industry knowledge and other gender stereotypes in order to be taken seriously and to earn the respect due to a subject matter expert by my colleagues both past and present. This work is mine alone, and being addressed as nothing more than my husband’s wife by the same university that provided the education that has enabled these successes truly saddens me.

In future correspondence, I strongly urge you to use the general salutation “Ms.” to avoid misunderstandings, especially in correspondence of a professional nature. “Ms.” places women on equal footing as men, who are universally recognized as “Mr.” regardless of their marital status.

With sincere regards,

Hook’em Horns!

Preeti Sharma

Now, it may seem that I’m being excessively hard on someone who, after all, was sending me a thank you note. But when I read the note, I was genuinely upset!

I intensely disagree with any use of “Mrs.” outside of social correspondence, like wedding invitations addressed to my husband and me. How is it any of the university’s business whether I’m married or not when I’m conducting a financial transaction with them? I did not have to get my husband to write the check, as I might have had to in bygone eras, nor did I need his permission to spend the money as I saw fit beyond the joint and equal discussions we have about our budget.

Use of “Ms.” is always appropriate. It was in fact devised to eliminate the confusion of addressing women of unknown marital status. So let’s use it.

Have you ever been addressed incorrectly in correspondence? How do you respond?

Word Wednesday: Less vs. Fewer

Learning new words and being able to find the word that means exactly what the story needs can mean the difference between a mediocre story and a brilliant one.

We recently started a new series within Word Wednesday of commonly confused words.

A reader reached out to me: “Could you do ‘less vs. fewer?’  I was quite pleased to see that Trop50 finally re-shot their commercial to have Jane Krakowski say, ‘50% fewer calories,’ instead of ‘50% less calories.’  But of course, now I have heard a new radio commercial from someone else using it incorrectly yet again.”

“Less” and “fewer” is an error bugs me, but I notice myself getting them mixed up in speaking though I know to catch it in writing.

So what’s the rule?

Simply put, it’s quality versus quantity.

“Less” is used in a general qualitative sense, but if you can count the items, you must use “fewer.”

Capitalizing on the Trop50 example, we’re going to stick with calories.

So I want to lose weight, which means—should I succeed—that I will weigh fewer pounds that I did before. I can count the pounds (all of them, unfortunately), therefore I must use “fewer.”

Similarly, if I want to eat less food, it is likely that I will ingest fewer calories. I can count the calories, but not the food.

Let’s take another example, that of a bank account. I might make a withdrawal to pay a bill. It is equally correct to state that I have less money in the bank than I did before, and that I have fewer dollars in the bank than before. In this case, money is a general term but the dollars can be counted.

Now, as with almost everything else in the English language, there are a few exceptions to this rule. But since she does it so well, I’ll send you over to read Grammar Girl.