Ms or Ms. (normally //, but also //, 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 marital status. Like Miss and Mrs., the term Ms. has its origins in the female English title once used for all women, Mistress. It has its origin in the 17th century and was revived into mainstream usage in the 20th century. In the UK and the majority of Commonwealth countries, a full stop (period) is usually not used with the title; in the United States and Canada a period is usually used (see Abbreviation).
Historical development and revival of the term
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.
In 1969, 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. The magazine Ms. debuted on newsstands in January 1972, and its much-publicized name quickly led to widespread usage. In February 1972, the US Government Printing Office approved using Ms. in official government documents. In 1976 Marvel Comics introduced a new superhero named Ms. Marvel, billing her as the "first feminist superhero".
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 in 1984 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 Daily 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". On the other hand, 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. A BBC Academy style guide states, "In choosing between Miss, Mrs and Ms, try to find out what the person herself uses, and stick to that." The New York Times embraces the use of all three: Mrs., Miss, and Ms., and will follow the individual’s preferences.
Some etiquette writers and famous figures do not support the use of Ms., including Charles Kidd, the 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". Debrett's itself, concerning the case of a married woman who chooses not to take her husband's name, states, "The ugly-sounding Ms is problematic. Although many women have assumed this bland epithet, it remains incorrect to use it when addressing a social letter." The former British Conservative Party MP Ann Widdecombe has stated, "I can't see the point of Ms and I don't see it as an issue", whilst author and journalist Jessica Fellowes describes the title Ms. as "ghastly". The Queen's English Society has criticised the use of Ms as "an abbreviation that is not short for anything", describing it as a "linguistic misfit [that] came about because certain women suddenly became sensitive about revealing their marital status".
On the other hand, the default use of Ms., especially for business purposes, is championed by some American sources, including Judith Martin (a.k.a. Miss Manners). Concerning business, the Emily Post Institute states, "Ms. is the default form of address, unless you know positively that a woman wishes to be addressed as Mrs." The American Heritage Book of English Usage states, "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."
- 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 r. 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. Archived from the original on 2010-02-08. Retrieved 2013-03-12.
- Zimmer, Ben (2009-06-23). "Hunting the Elusive First 'Ms.'". Word Routes. The Visual Thesaurus. Retrieved 2009-06-23.
- "Abbreviations : Capital Letters and Abbreviations". www.sussex.ac.uk. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
- 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. Archived from the original on 2013-03-12. 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.
- Grigg, John (1991-11-02). "The Times".
Most married women are still addressed, and wish to be addressed, as Mrs, while most unmarried women are still addressed as Miss. Ms is used by feminists to make their point, or by male chauvinists trying to make the opposite point, though of course it is also used by unprejudiced correspondents in a state of doubt.quoted in Burchfield, R. W. (1996). The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (3rd ed.). p. 512. ISBN 0-19-969036-7.
- "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.
- "Titles". Style Guide. The Economist. Retrieved 2016-11-16.
- "Names". BBC Academy. Retrieved 2015-06-25.
- Zimmer, Ben. "On Language: Ms." The New York Times’’. 23 October 2009.
- Siegal, Allan M., Connolly, William G. "Courtesy title". The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage: The Official Style Guide Used by the Writers and Editors of the World's Most Authoritative News Organization. Random House USA Incorporated, 2015. ISBN 9781101905449. Page 79.
- "Mrs? Or is that Ms, Miss?". BBC NEWS.
- Fellowes, By Jessica. "Etiquette: Mind your 'please' and cues".
- "ERROR – Ms". The Queen's English Society: QES English Academy. Archived from the original on August 6, 2010.CS1 maint: Unfit url (link)
- Martin, Judith. "Miss Manners: How and When to Use 'Ms.' in Business Correspondence". Lifestyle. MSN. Archived from the original on 2012-03-15.
- "Guide to Addressing Correspondence".
- "The American Heritage Book of English Usage". 31 October 2007. Archived from the original on 2008-12-09.
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