new york times & ms./gay

Jesse T Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Sun May 23 14:52:28 UTC 1999

> As for how old the title is, the earliest anyone has traced _Ms._ is
> Mario Pei's 1949 book, The Story of Language.  It may have originated, not
> as a feminist usage, but rather as a pragmatic solution in the business
> world to the problem of whether to use Miss or Mrs. in addressing
> correspondence when one doesn't know whether the recipient is married.

Actually, Denis Baron, in _Grammar and Gender,_ cites a 1932
example of "Ms," written with an apostrophe though clearly
used as a marriage-status-neutral term. Baron quotes from a
letter written to the New York Times about a debate in the
business community over the use of "Miss" or "M's." for a
woman whose marital status is unknown. As Baron points out,
"Hirshtein's letter implies that readers would be familiar
with the usage question, and indicates that _Ms._ was a
commercial rather than a feminist issue at the time."

Baron also mentions a "Ms" appearing on a 1767 tombstone,
which he characterises as an abbreviation of _Miss_ or
_Mistress,_ "and not an example of colonial language reform."

Jesse Sheidlower
Random House
<jester at>

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