9.14.2006

Dear Ms Snark...snarl

Dear... Miss Snark,

Why exactly is 'Ms. Snark' snarlworthy?

I know several women of a certain age (that 'certain age' being, in some cases, no more than 30) who think that being addressed as 'Miss' is condescending and shows they're not taken seriously. On the other hand, I know women of any age who think that being addressed as 'Ms' is condescending and shows they look old and/or divorced. (Don't ask how anyone can 'look divorced'.) To say nothing of 'Mrs'! That is, apparently, condescending, sexist, chauvinist, fascist, and shows they're not taken seriously AND look old. In other words, modern etiquette has become so tough one would prefer to stay at home.

Still, even if I were to find out the agent's marital status and age, and use a complicated mathematical formula to find out the likelihood of her preferring one title over another, I could never bring myself to address any woman as 'Miss' (or indeed 'Mrs') in a business context. Not even Miss Snark. And I hate, hate, *hate* the idea of starting a query letter with, say, 'Dear Seraphina Snark'.

But what is one to do if even 'Ms' can rub an agent the wrong way? Should I save myself from etiquette migraines by restricting my queries to the plain Misters?

Thank you,

Miss Petunia Paranoid`


Dear Miss Snark has nothing to do with everyone else and everything to do with the name on the masthead of this blog. IF the name on this blog was Snarly Snark you'd be quite correct to make no assumption of gender and say Dear Mr/Ms Snark, or Dear Snarly Snark, or even should the mood strike Yo Snarl.

However. Miss Snark, the literary agent should be obvious to anyone. Thus Dear Miss Snark.

The most basic rule of etiquette in social and business situations is you call someone as they ask to be called. Thus "Dr. Laura" even if that violates every rule in Emily Post's Big Book of Clue Cards; "Captain Janeway" rather than "ma'am", "Kid Rock" rather than Mr. Rock; and of course everyone knows the New York Times is having its own special kind of fun calling P. Diddy "Mr. Diddy" and 50cent "Mr. Cent".

Call people what they want. Ms is fine if you don't know. But, if you don't know Miss Snark is Miss Snark, you're Mr/Ms Nitwit.

49 comments:

M.E Ellis said...

Laughed a lot at 'Yo Snarl'.

:o)

McKoala said...

Miss Snark told me once that her first name was 'Miss' (I believe it was when were speculating over what the offspring of Miss Snark and Evil Editor might be named).

xiqay said...

Dear Miss Snark,

In every comment and in every e-mail I have sent you, I've address you as Miss Snark, because of your preference.

But I have to say, it bothers me.

Remembering the days when Gloria Steinem was my hero; the first magazine I subscribed to (from my own funds) was MS. and wondering why all these years later there is still a pay gap between the genders. (and still believing in the need for feminism and the positive benefits of Ms. as a title).

Yours,

Anonymous said...

P. Diddy lost the right to use 'Diddy'. He's just now, Puffy Combes.

Kate Thornton said...

Back when I was in the Army, I was a Warrant Officer and my rank was always addressed as "Mister" - I had a lot of fun with it. W2s and above can also be addressed as "Chief" - I made 2 in record time, gossip has it, so the Col. didn't have to call me "Mister."

Of course, when confused soldiers asked me what I would prefer to be called, I always told them: Your Majesty.

Kate - who now likes to be called "Yes, Dear"

the green ray said...

Miss Snark, you're becoming the Ann Landers of the publishing world! We love you.

Noel Lynne Figart said...

I can remember going rounds with French people a few times, when it comes to my name. (NOT always. Just for the record)

"Noël is a boy's name! It should be Noëlle!"

"Fine. I have a boy's name. But it's still Noël."

Apparently there are some places where "what you want to be called" doesn't carry.

Scottie McBruiser said...

Och!

Miss. Missus. Spawna' Scratch.

Ooo gives a good goddamm whether i's Miss er Missus? Climb up onyer cross fer thaht wee slight, willya?

Get oover yerself, yah steamin' blether!

Mother of Saints, th' things yew women will say when ya canna hawd yer weesht!

-c- said...

xiquy, are you missing the irony of pairing "Miss" with "Snark"? You actually think this is a step backwards for feminisim?

As for the poster, save yourself grief and always address your business letters by first and last names--or whatever made up name one has given him or herself. Dear Jane Agent. Dear Evil Editor. Dear (insert symbol for the artist formerly known as Prince, unless he's changed it). Don't fuss with Ms. or Mrs. or Mr. - you don't get points for getting it right, and you always get dinged for getting it wrong. Just use the full name.

Anonymous said...

Wheeee, Miss Snark's a trekkie!

:D

I heart you even more for the Captain Janeway reference!

Bernita said...

~snork~
It is disconcerting to answer a door with a babe in arms and two latched to one's legs on either side and be addressed as "Miss."

elaine said...

wondering why all these years later there is still a pay gap between the genders.

Because many women do take time out of their job or career to raise children. That affects pay equality over the long haul.

Anonymous said...

One problem here is that people are confusing business etiquette with social etiquette.

Social manners are different than business manners. For example, socially, a gentleman holds a door for a lady. In business, a subordinate holds a door for a superior, regardless of the sex of the people involved.

"Ms." is the accepted business etiquette default. Unless you have reason to know an agent prefers something else, "Ms." is what you use. However, personal preference, when known, trumps default in both social and business manners. That's simply polite.

Miss Snark's blog her personal--not professional--forum. Either way, she has expressed her preference for a certain mode of address. Polite individuals will respect that, even if they don't agree.

Aconite

Ben W in PDX said...

Thanks Elaine for clearing that up. Every job I've ever had the women in the same position have made as much (or more) than I. Maybe that's a west coast thing? I don't know.

magz said...

Oh My Dear...
Your thoughts. Miss Manners would so agree. So would my Sainted Mother, who's incredibly correct tone and style complimented many a snarky remark.
Bless ya Lady!

Anonymous said...

I think that the letter-writer is indicating discomfort with the word "Miss" because many women have heard it used as an analogue for "bitch" by service industry employees unable (by minimal courtesy standards on the job) to simply call a spade a spade.

Military personnel use a wider variety of addresses than most people, in my experience. I became fond of military people assuming I am "Mrs." as a young military wife. Although I have a graduate degree and am of "a certain age," I still prefer "Mrs."-- although I have begun to call the hubs "my partner" in polite company.

Now that we're university people, there are new and puzzling customs to which we have had to adapt. 1) Married women keeping their maiden surnames, or (shudder) hyphenating them to their husbands' surnames. 2) Professors preferring "Mister" to "Doctor" (ours do). 3) Positively everyone we know exhibiting horror upon hearing "Mrs."

To my ear, "Miss" and "Missus" are more melodic than the oh-so-70s "Miz," which is more tenacious than I ever expected it to be. But your mileage may vary.

The Curmudgeon said...

Whatever happened to call me anything you like so long as you as don't call me late for supper?

The Curmudgeon said...

(Of course, I don't respond well to "Hey Cur," or "Curmudgy" either -- but you got something I want? Call me what you need to call me.

Anonymous said...

Why is calling someone the name they want to be called a point of contention? Why do certain people defend stupid behavior to the death instead of adapting to the situation? A few thoughts spring immediately to mind:

First, why would someone who wants to be a writer waste their time arguing something that won't ever change? Shouldn't s/he be honing skills and, yanno, writing something that maybe can be sold?

Then I'm reminded of grade school, when the teacher would give an assignment and the kids would ask really, really stupid questions just to waste the teacher's time (or so I thought). Now I realize that they evidently thought that, each day, the world reinvented itself and they needed to check to make sure the rules didn't change. Or something. I just...don't understand.

Anonymous said...

Mother of Saints, th' things yew women will say when ya canna hawd yer weesht!

When we cannot have our wee shit?
I shit fine, thanks.

Elektra said...

xiqay

I cannot speak for Miss Snark, but I can speak for myself, another 'Miss'.

Reason I prefer Miss to Ms.

a) I have absolutely no issue with people knowing my marriage status. It is not a huge secret I long to keep to myself.

b) Ms. is just a terribly ugly word, phonetically speaking. I cringe every time I hear it

Ryan Field said...

Once knew a drag queen who was Miss Demeanor. Go figure.

WitLiz Today said...

I don't know...

Sometimes, you just gotta let some things go.

People are people. Some drink beer and some drink Champagne. The final destination is the same; Dr. John T. Room.

You want style and etiquette get published in the New Yorker. This is the Internet, not an exhibit at the MOMA, or a concert for penquins at Carnegie Hall...

Relax...use sticks for walking...

However, (between you, me and the poodle, and once Miss Snark pulls the stick out of my ass), if I ever write to Miss Snark, (not in a million billion years, not in my lifetime,your lifetime, or God's lifetime), she will be addressed as Miss Snark,as per her request.

acd said...

Once I went to nuclear power summer camp and the line on the registration form, after our name, was "What do you prefer to be called?" One guy, Dave, put down waggishly "Sir." And sure enough, when we got there, his name tag said in bold Times New Roman: "Sir Dave."

Eviltwin said...

I don't know that we want to get into the complexities of pay inequality here. I don't think there's a simple answer :)

I do think that there's nothing more feminist than respecting a woman's desire to be called whatever she prefers. Or a man, for that matter!

KLCtheBookWorm said...

While I don't care about Miss vs. Ms. vs. Mrs., I do care about my last name. It will be hyphenated with my husband's because a child would be the product of us both and there are no boys to pass down the family name.

However it got really annoying to watch the BLANTANT disregard of following the rules during the crapometer. She said in the instructions to send it to "Miss Snark." I don't blame her at all if she chose never to read another one that can't be bothered to follow the rules.

BuffySquirrel said...

could never bring myself to address any woman as 'Miss' (or indeed 'Mrs') in a business context.

Why on earth not? It's not like Miss Snark is asking for your soul. Only for common politeness.

Miss Demeanour

Chumplet said...

The same can be said for first names. At my place of business, I let my friends call me Sandy. In business letters and emails I prefer to be called Sandra.

Imagine my annoyance when my business cards were printed up and they used the name Sandy without my permission, and my email identification is also Sandy.

I dunno, it just bugs me that any Tom (Thomas) Dick (Richard) or Harry (Harold) can go ahead and call me Sandy when they don't even know me.

On the other hand, if friends call me Sandra, I tend to think I'm in trouble or something.

Anonymous said...

You know who started this Miss, Ms., Mrs. and Ma'am thing. (Ma'am is more often spoken than written of a woman on the back side of forty). Men in the Dark Ages who wanted to know if their hearts' desire was a virgin or married,or old or young.
Like plain ol' Mister, let's start a campaign to refer to females of all ages, and status as one designation. I'm with Miss Snark. Miss whether you're nine or ninty.

Anonymous said...

Ms., Mrs., Miss, fine. Just don't call me ma'am!

29 and married

Kathleen said...

well said Miss Snark. Not sure why this is so difficult, your name is Miss Snark, your blog is Miss Snark, why would anyone address you as something else, or not understand why that would annoy you, I don't get.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Just spell my name correctly on the check.

Miss P. Paranoid said...

'She said in the instructions to send it to "Miss Snark."'

Ah, now I see. Thanks. I didn't know this because I'm not subscribed to the blog and don't read every post -- I look through these pages only occasionally. I thought the point was to pretend you were 'really' sending the query letter to a 'real' agent, and that's why the snarling at the 'Ms' left me mystified. Chalk it up to me being a bit slow (and raised to obsess over matters of Correct Form).

Just to answer a few of the comments: in a social context, I of course address people as they prefer to be addressed (which is why Miss/Mrs/Ms is such a tightrope walk with people you've only just met). In a business context, I should think 'Ms' is the safest choice. I don't know these people socially, and it would be a bit presumptuous of me to address them as if I did. Even 'Dear Jane Agent' smacks too much of first-name terms to me (or, alternatively, the writer not bothering to find out the agent's sex, if the name is at all ambiguous). The preferred title is not exactly something usually mentioned in Submission Guidelines, is it?

By the way, addressing people I meet in the real world by ridiculous imaginary titles (or ridiculous stage names) really IS something I could never bring myself to do. And I hate being forced on first-name terms with people who say 'just call me Jenny/Tommy' the moment we're introduced. If that makes me stuck-up, I don't mind at all.

Cynthia Bronco said...

I don't care. As long as no one calls me Ma'am, I don't care! I'll answer to a pointed finger and a grunt.

MichaelPH said...

People like to mess with names. They meet Robert and convert him to a "Bob"; Michael magically becomes "Mike" (Grrr...). Is it an American chummy thing?

Manic Mom said...

All I know is when someone refers to me as Miss, I kiss their feet and bless their hearts. And when I am referred to as a Ma'am, I tell them I'm not a ma'am until I'm old enough for my first Mammogram!

(Even though I've already had two, officially *I* say not till I'm 40)...

Oh God. It's looming 2-1/2 years away.

Shudder.

Judy said...

Hey, thank God the poster didn't want to call you Madam or Maam Snark. They are the most awful names in my book and when people call me that I'm quick to let them know that my name is not Madam or Maam and if they call me that again I'll have to reply with some vulgar name for them.

And since rpnoks is the the word verification, I think it's appropriate that I'd want to rp the noks right off of 'em.

Manic Mom said...

And Scottie McBruiser, what the hell does this say?:

Get oover yerself, yah steamin' blether!

Mother of Saints, th' things yew women will say when ya canna hawd yer weesht!

I hope your novel does not read in Scottish - it will be very hard for the average minion to decipher, darling. And I certainly send this with love and curiosity, no malice, my friend.

Marlo said...

Social manners are different than business manners. For example, socially, a gentleman holds a door for a lady. In business, a subordinate holds a door for a superior, regardless of the sex of the people involved.

What horrible planet does that happen on?

Here, it's whoever gets to the door first, would hold it open for the person or persons right behind them. Of course, in the case of those persons pushing strollers, wheelchairs, or carrying a whack of bags, any remotely polite person will haul ass to make sure s/he got to the door first to help.

As for names, pay attention to how people introduce themselves. They are telling you what they want to be called. Since formal address is a preference minefield, try not to get offended if a sincere effort to be respectful was made.

I'll answer with a smile to Sir or Ma'am, but anyone who uses Sweetie is getting a fork in the eye.

Anonymous said...

Eviltwin,

I do think that there's nothing more feminist than respecting a woman's desire to be called whatever she prefers. Or a man, for that matter!

No matter what she prefers, I don't think I'd be willing to call a woman a man!

pjm said...

p. paranoid,

"I thought the point was to pretend you were 'really' sending the query letter to a 'real' agent, and that's why the snarling at the 'Ms' left me mystified."

Would you not do sufficient research before querying "real" agents? You'd want to learn what they represent, who their clients are, what they've sold, mail preferences, etc. before wasting your time and theirs.

All of that info can be found quite easily and quickly. It would probably take as much time as it would've for you to have read past crapometer posts where you would've learned Miss Snark prefers to be addressed as Miss Snark.

However, since you "...look through these pages only occasionally" perhaps you didn't bother with the research part of querying.

Of course, all it really takes is one visit to this blog to learn the name of it: Miss Snark, the literary agent.

Chumplet said...

MichaelPH said...

People like to mess with names. They meet Robert and convert him to a "Bob"; Michael magically becomes "Mike" (Grrr...). Is it an American chummy thing?

Michael (not Mike), it's a Canadian thing, too. We're all just one big slap-happy tree huggin' family up here.

It's probably an Aussie thing, too. Maybe everyone down there calls each other Mate and Sheila just to simplify things.

mkcbunny said...

I love "Miss." It goes so well with gin.

Until recently, we had a cat named "Miss Pickles." She was both a delicate princess and a playful goofball, hence the name. She's gone now, but her name still makes me laugh.

Breca Halley said...

Miss Snark is a Voyager fan. Yessss!!

Me said...

Was I really the only one who noticed this odd comment:

"Once I went to nuclear power summer camp and the line on the registration form, after our name, was 'What do you prefer to be called?'"

Even though my husband works at a nuclear power plant (think Homer Simpson with a mustache), I have to ask: What, pray tell, is "nuclear power summer camp"?

The images in my mind are beyond description. Although it might be fun to try...

Bella Stander said...

Calling women "Miss" or "Ma'am" is a regional thing. In the north, you call your waitress "Miss," no matter how ancient; in the south she's "Ma'am," no matter how young. Ditto for how service personnel address customers.

In the 17th & 18th centuries, even unmarried women were called Mistress or Mrs.

Considering how many unmarried people are breeding these days (cf Brangelina), Bernita shouldn't be shocked to be called "Miss" even when surrounded by a passel of clinging kids. Maybe she was mistaken for the nanny.

I loathe letters addressed "Dear Firstname Lastname." They're so impersonal; either computer-generated or written by someone too lazy to find out my sex and proper title.

Anonymous said...

marlo: What horrible planet does that happen on? [...] Here, it's whoever gets to the door first, would hold it open for the person or persons right behind them.

You're conflating personal social/business etiquette with general social etiquette. Many Americans do, so many of the distinctions have been broken down simply because people don't know them. Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying it's rude or bad in any way for whoever gets to the door first to hold it open for everyone else. Just understand that in terms of etiquette there's a difference between how strangers act towards each other and how people who have some relationship to each other are supposed to act, and that etiquete is regional and circumstantial, as well.

Aconite

Bernita said...

My dear Bella,
In that place, at that time, it WAS the equivalent of the 17th-18th century - and quite amusing.

Manic Mom said...

Someone called me Ma'am today.

I killed him.