This question has been asked on this website before—but one example was closed as off topic, and the other specifically regarded use in a letter.

My context requires the use of speech, as if you worked in a call center—where the caller's voice may not give an indication of their gender. Also, gender-neutral terms are often preferred these days.

Where you need to treat the customer with respect—what alternative to Sir or Madam can be used?

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    If you really respected them, you'd find out their names. – Rupert Morrish Feb 1 '18 at 2:02
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    Ask your company for the best phrasing to ask for their name and then use that. – Ross Murray Feb 1 '18 at 2:11
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    @RossMurray I don't work in a call center. Or what if I were the call center management I had to come up with the phrase? That's why I'm asking here. – dwjohnston Feb 1 '18 at 2:14
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    When all else fails, mumble. – Hot Licks Feb 1 '18 at 3:09
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    A gender-neutral technique of addressing somebody on an email I've seen often is to reference the related activity or operation. For example, if you are receiving a generic response to a job application, it is common to see "Dear Applicant" instead of "Dear Sir/Madam", when the name is not directly used. Depending on your specific situation, it might or might not feel out of place to use that phrasing on a voice call. – Arvindh Mani Feb 5 '18 at 20:34

Interestingly enough being in the military, especially saluting officers we say "Good morning, Sir" or "Good morning, Ma'am".

But at the same time I was thinking the other day about people of different genders or females that look more masculine and vice versa. What do I say then?

Simply put, just say "Good morning". Leave out the gender. Play it safe.

  • This reminded me that in some fiction it's proposed that elimination of the distinction is at least plausible. In these works military superiors of any gender are addressed the same―usually as sir. One example is Battlestar Galactica. – Trevor Reid Mar 11 at 23:48

In spoken English for answering a call in a call center, you can avoid a gendered address simply by using repectful tone of voice and slightly formal phrasing: "Thank you for your call. How may I help you today?" or "Would you please reboot your machine?" vs. "What can I do for you, sir?"
or "What do you need, ma'am?"

In written English for a call center situation such as emailing a customer, you can use a greeting such as "Hello," with no title combined with formal phrasing in the body of the email.

Should you work in the rare call center where a bit of whimsy is allowed, you can use "gentlefolk" for a non-gendered plural, but this should be used with care.

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    In what way should 'gentlefolk' be used with care? Under what contexts do you think it appropriate/inappropriate? – Mitch Feb 26 at 13:43

There are few gender neutral honorifics in English that are going to sound completely natural in a conversational context, especially a call center.

If unwilling to work around the matter as others have suggested this may be a case where you could experiment with setting precedent for new cultural norms.

I have, on occasion, used the phrase my friend for this situation. However, that may be taken as too familiar depending on the circumstances. For example, I am quite put off when a politician with whom I have no other relationship addresses me as "my friend." Or even if this is done collectively as "my friends" when I am part of his audience. Yuck.

Hotels in their writing sometimes use the expression honored guest. Businesses more generally might adopt valued customer, esteemed patron and so on.

There's no grammatical reason these written forms of address can't be impressed into verbal service. And that they sound strange is largely a matter of becoming accustomed to them.


Merriam-Webster gives gender neutral title as "Mx" https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/mx-gender-neutral-title

So does Oxford. There is an mp3 there, demonstrating how to pronounce/use in speech.


Dear Thing?

See Oxford Dictionary online:

2.1 A living creature or plant.

Literary Example (The Cat in the Hat):

And Sally and I

Did not know what to do.

So we had to shake hands

With Thing One and Thing Two.

Although some may side with the fish on this question:

But the fish said “No! No!

These Things should not be

In this house! Make them go!

  • 1
    How is this a respectful way to address a person? – Laurel Mar 10 at 21:20
  • @Laurel — Ah, but the English language evolves! – David Mar 10 at 21:32

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