March 21, 2018

"It is worse than a crime: it is a mistake"

My private life is generally nothing for you to be concerned about; nor, come to think of it, is it any of your business unless I choose to make it so, which is apparently what I'm about to do. But in the interests of full disclosure, you should be aware that I was in a bad mood when I witnessed what I'm about to detail, which means I could be overreacting to the whole thing. I doubt it, but it is possible.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I saw a promo on MeTV for Gunsmoke. Now, there's generally nothing wrong with that (other than these promos usually aren't nearly as clever as those responsible for them think they are), but in this case - well, I'l give it to you straight. This is a screenshot of the commercial's theme:

Does anyone besides me see what's wrong with this?

Now, it is true that the term Ms. has been around since the 17th century, but it wasn't seriously offered as an alternative to "Mrs." or "Miss" until 1901, after which it disappeared from the public eye, making brief reappearances from time to time, until it finally started to gain cache in 1969.  Considering Gunsmoke takes place in the 1870's, I think we can consider it highly unlikely, if not impossible, that anyone ever referred to Kitty as "Ms."

Even if Ms. had been in use in the 1870s, I rather doubt Kitty would have used it. Women generally use Ms. for one of two reasons: 1) they don't want to tell people their marital status, or 2) they don't think their marital status is any of your business. As for 1), Kitty didn't seem to do anything to hide the fact that she was unmarried; for 2), she always answered to "Miss Kitty," which makes me think she didn't much care if you knew about it or not.

All right, all that was a little facetious. But the point remains: not only was this a historical anachronism, it comes off as either a sop to political correctness, or just plain stupid. No matter how I look at it, I can't come up with it being funny, mostly because they don't attempt to draw the proper amount of attention to it in order for anyone to get the joke. Ha ha.

The quote that makes up the title of this piece is attributed to Talleyrand - C'est pire qu'un crime, c'est une faute; in fact, it was probably said either by de la Meurthe or FouchĂ©. There's another quote, also mistakenly credited to Talleyrand: "They have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing." Let's hope that the next time MeTV tries to be too clever by half, they don't forget this, and learn never to try it again. Otherwise, we'll have to sic Marshal Dillon on them, and they wouldn't want thatTV  


  1. I'm in total agreement here, Mitch. It was then and has always been "Miss" Kitty! Perhaps, a mistake or worse, as you said, political correctness. Whatever the case, it's wrong and I appreciate you pointing this out. You should definitely send this post to MeTV.

  2. My complete guess, based on having worked with the industry this long, and having had graduates go on to do this kind of work: the "Ms." was probably done out of force of habit, with no agenda or malice at work, but rather the work of a young promotions department that had a deadline to meet, is accustomed to the modern honorific, and not enough background with the series to know the appropriate style for "Gunsmoke."

    Now, if we hear back from MeTV and they respond that it was deliberately done, it's another ball game. My wager, though, is on "it's one of those things that happened."

  3. My guess is it was done as a back-handed compliment to a great character that someone in their graphic department doesn't even know what she was about. They took the Ms title to gain her authority, as a strong career woman. If you watched this show, or watch it now in reruns as I do almost daily, you would know the character was a strong no-nonsense woman, who would take no guff from the ranks of 'victimization' of 2018. Kitty was one of the strongest female characters ever on television, she would have said proudly and defiantly, "That's Miss Russel to you."

  4. I share your vexation, Mitchell. I suspect some pablum-puking 20-something snowflake intern who never watched an episode of GUNSMOKE created the promo. On top of the political correctness, the promo also mistakenly implies Miss Kitty was the sole owner as opposed to a co-owner with men like Bill Pence. I appreciate your being a watchman on the wall and crying foul.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!