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Originally published Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 4:29 PM

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France to banish 'mademoiselle' from government documents

In France, a man is a Mr. — or monsieur — all his life, but women are either mademoiselles or mesdames, depending on their marital status.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur

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PARIS — In a victory for feminists, French Prime Minister François Fillon has said the word "mademoiselle" would no longer be used in government documents, a government spokeswoman said Wednesday.

"Madame or mademoiselle?" is a loaded question in France, where it is used by men trying to establish a woman's "availability" and by government departments, banks and companies that force women to categorize themselves as Mrs. (madame) or Miss (mademoiselle).

In France, a man is a Mr. — or monsieur — all his life, but women are either mademoiselles or mesdames for official and business purposes, depending on their marital status.

It's a distinction that no longer exists in a number of Western countries. Germany in 1972 banned fräulein from official use. English-speaking countries give women the option of the neutral Ms.

The word mademoiselle comes from demoiselle, which used to be a title of nobility in pre-revolutionary France; it became linked with marital status during the Napoleonic era.

Since then, it has survived three government memos since 1967, all of which declared mademoiselle to have no legal standing.

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