"Ms" or "Ms." (normally //, but also appearing as //, //, or // when unstressed) is an English honorific used with the last name or full name of a woman, intended as a default form of address for women regardless of their marital status. Like "Miss" and "Mrs.", the term "Ms." has its origins in the female English title once used for all women, "Mistress". It was invented (and revived/reinvented) in the 20th century. Various plural forms used are "Mss.", "Mses.", and "Mmes."
Historical development and revival of the term
"Ms." began to be used as early as the 17th century, along with "Miss" and "Mrs.", as a title derived from the then formal "Mistress", which, like Mister, did not originally indicate marital status. "Ms.", however, fell into disuse in favor of the other two titles and was not revived until the 20th century.
There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill. Every one has been put in an embarrassing position by ignorance of the status of some woman. To call a maiden Mrs is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts...
Now, clearly, what is needed is a more comprehensive term which does homage to the sex without expressing any views as to their domestic situation, and what could be simpler or more logical than the retention of what the two doubtful terms have in common. The abbreviation "Ms" is simple, it is easy to write, and the person concerned can translate it properly according to circumstances. For oral use it might be rendered as "Mizz," which would be a close parallel to the practice long universal in many bucolic regions, where a slurred Mis' does duty for Miss and Mrs alike.
The term was again suggested as a convenience to writers of business letters by such publications as the Bulletin of the American Business Writing Association (1951) and The Simplified Letter, issued by the National Office Management Association (1952).
In 1961, Sheila Michaels attempted to put the term into use when she saw what she thought was a typographical error on the address label of a copy of News & Letters sent to her roommate. Michaels "was looking for a title for a woman who did not 'belong' to a man." She knew the separation of the now common terms Miss and Mrs. had derived from "Mistress", but one could not suggest that women use the original title with its now louche connotations. Her efforts to promote use of a new honorific were at first ignored. Around 1971, in a lull during a WBAI-radio interview with The Feminists group, Michaels suggested the use of Ms. A friend of Gloria Steinem heard the interview and suggested it as a title for her new magazine. Ms. magazine's popularity finally allowed the term to enjoy widespread usage. In February 1972, the US Government Printing Office approved using "Ms." in official government documents.
Even several public opponents of "non-sexist language", such as William Safire, were finally convinced that Ms. had earned a place in English by the case of US Congresswoman Geraldine A. Ferraro. Ferraro, a United States vice-presidential candidate in 1984, was a married woman who used her birth surname professionally rather than her husband's ("Zaccaro"). Safire pointed out that it would be equally incorrect to call her "Miss Ferraro" (as she was married), or "Mrs. Ferraro" (as her husband was not "Mr. Ferraro")—and that calling her "Mrs. Zaccaro" would confuse the reader.
Suggestions about how Ms should be used, or whether it should be used at all, are varied. The American Heritage Book of English Usage states that: "Using Ms. obviates the need for the guesswork involved in figuring out whether to address someone as Mrs. or Miss: you can’t go wrong with Ms. Whether the woman you are addressing is married or unmarried, has changed her name or not, Ms. is always correct." The Telegraph states in its style guide that Ms should only be used if a subject requests it herself and it "should not be used merely because we do not know whether the woman is Mrs or Miss". The Guardian, which restricts its use of honorific titles to leading articles, states in its style guide: "use Ms for women... unless they have expressed a preference for Miss or Mrs". The Economist states that it generally uses the title a person adopts, but warns that Ms. is an "ugly" title.
The most formally written sections of The Times and The Daily Telegraph, the Court & Social pages, both began to allow Ms in the 1990s, presumably if a woman (generally attending a memorial service or formal dinner) requested to be referred to as such. The Times Court & Social page has allowed this form of address since 1991, and the equivalent Telegraph page has accepted it since 1995.
Some etiquette writers and famous figures do not support the use of Ms., including Charles Kidd, the current editor of Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage, who claims the usage is "not very helpful" and that he had been "brought up to address a married woman as Mrs John Smith, for example". The former British Conservative Party MP Ann Widdecombe stated "I can't see the point of Ms and I don't see it as an issue".
- Oxford English Dictionary online, Ms, n.2. Etymology: An orthographic and phonetic blend of Mrs n.1 and miss n.2 Compare mizz n. The pronunciation with final /-z/ would appear to have arisen as a result of deliberate attempts to distinguish between this word and miss n.2; compare mizz n., and perhaps also Miz n.1 -- [mizz n.: Etymology: Representing the spoken realization of Ms n.2 (see discussion at that entry).] Accessed 2012-07-25
- Wells, John C. (1990). Longman pronunciation dictionary. Harlow, England: Longman. p. 463. ISBN 0-582-05383-8. entry "Ms". It may be pronounced with schwa even in stressed situation.
- "Emily Post's Guide to Addressing Correspondence: Addressing a Woman". The Emily Post Institute. Retrieved 2013-03-12.
- Zimmer, Ben (2009-06-23). "Hunting the Elusive First 'Ms.'". Word Routes. The Visual Thesaurus. Retrieved 2009-06-23.
- Derived from the traditional French-based plural Mesdames, identical to the form used for "Mrs."
- Spender, Dale (1981). Man Made Language. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 978-0-7100-0675-2.
- Stannard, Una (1977). Mrs Man. San Francisco: Germainbooks. ISBN 978-0-914142-02-7.
- Martin, Judith (October 11, 2009). "What’s in a name?". Miss Manners. Buffalo News. Archived from the original on 2009-10-14.
- Martin, Judith. Miss Manners' Guide for the Turn of the Millennium. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 10. ISBN 0-671-72228-X.
- "Ms.". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Houghton Mifflin Company. 2009.
- Jeffs, Angela (November 5, 2000). "Missing piece of puzzle in story of 'Ms.'". The Japan Times Online.
- Michaels, Sheila (March–April 2008). "Forty Years of Defying the Odds". Solidarity Webzine. Solidarity. Retrieved November 9, 2009.
- Kay, Eve (28 June 2007). "Call Me Ms". The Guardian. Retrieved August 20, 2007.
- Fishko, Sara (June 28, 2012). "Fishko Files: Ms.". WNYC. Retrieved 2013-03-12.
- Zimmer, Ben (2009-10-25). "On Language: Ms.". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-16.
- Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. p. 246. ISBN 0-465-04195-7.
- Safire, William. "On Language: Goodbye Sex, Hello Gender", The New York Times, August 5, 1984, Section 6 p. 8.
- "The American Heritage Book of English Usage". 31 October 2007. Archived from the original on 2008-12-09.
- "Telegraph style book: names and titles". Telegraph.co.uk. 19 February 2008.
- "The Guardian Style Guide: Mr, Ms, Mrs, Miss". The Guardian. August 2009. Retrieved 2013-03-12.
- "Style Guide beginning with T". The Economist.
- "BBC NEWS - UK - Mrs? Or is that Ms, Miss?".
- "BBC NEWS - UK - Mrs? Or is that Ms, Miss?".
- Martin, Judith. "Miss Manners: How and When To Use "Ms." in Business Correspondence". Lifestyle. MSN. Archived from the original on 2012-03-15.
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