[Ads-l] "Ms." interdatings (1921-22)

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Thu Dec 17 20:01:27 UTC 2015


And now Dennis shares an example from 1912 (New Orleans
Times-Picayune, Jan 23, p. 8), bridging the gap between 1901 and 1921.
We have it represented in every decade now.

https://twitter.com/DrGrammar/status/677575821268152321/photo/1


On Thu, Dec 17, 2015 at 1:07 PM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
>
> Excellent find, Garson! Here's the full text of the item:
>
> ---
> http://newspaperarchive.com/us/massachusetts/boston/boston-post/1921/07-25/page-10
> Boston Post, July 25, 1921, p. 10, col. 4
> "The Observant Citizen"
> Quite frequently the question is asked, "How to address a letter to a
> woman when one is not sure whether she is 'Miss' or 'Mrs.'"
> The following clever solution of the problem appears in a publication
> entitled "We Are Here," edited by Leo Burnett, advertising manager of
> the La Fayette Motors:
> C.P. Rockwell of Boston was recently puzzled about what prefix to use
> in circularizing women whose names were taken from the registration
> lists with no index as to whether they were "Miss" or "Mrs." He
> considered, quite properly, that to omit any prefix whatsoever from
> the name of a woman with whom they were unacquainted would be the
> first step toward the failure of a place of literature coming to her
> attention.
> Some research was done, in fact the question was carried to the
> president of Harvard University, upon whose authority it is correct to
> use the prefix "Ms." in the case of a woman, whether she is married or
> unmarried.
> ---
>
> (This was quite early in the career of Leo Burnett, who would later be
> a very famous ad executive.)
>
>
> On Thu, Dec 17, 2015 at 12:41 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole wrote:
>>
>> Ben: Here is a link to a slightly earlier interdating.
>>
>> Date: July 25, 1921
>> Newspaper: Boston Post
>> Newspaper Location: Boston, Massachusetts
>> Article: The Observant Citizen
>> Quote Page 10
>>
>> http://www.newspapers.com/image/74572305/?terms=%22prefix%22
>>
>> The Boston newspaper points to an earlier source.
>>
>> [Acknowledgment info]
>> The following clever solution of the problem appears in a publication
>> entitled "We Are Here," edited by Leo Burnett, advertising manager of
>> the La Fayette Motors:
>> [End acknowledgement]
>>
>> On Thu, Dec 17, 2015 at 9:56 AM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
>> >
>> > The earliest known proposal for "Ms." as a title for women regardless
>> > of marital status was made in the Springfield (Mass.) Republican of
>> > Nov. 10, 1901.
>> >
>> > http://www.vocabulary.com/articles/wordroutes/hunting-the-elusive-first-ms/
>> > https://illinois.edu/blog/view/25/6748
>> >
>> > But after that item (which circulated in many newspapers at the time),
>> > we hadn't come across anything else on "Ms." until a 1932 letter to
>> > the New York Times (using the variant "M's") and Mario Pei's _The
>> > Story of Language_ in 1949. Dennis Baron recently shared an example he
>> > found from 1922, and that led me to find some other cites from the
>> > early '20s that help fill in the gaps a bit.
>> >
>> > The first one is from 1921, in a bit of advertorial content from the
>> > Cleveland department store William Taylor & Son:
>> >
>> > ---
>> > _Plain Dealer_ (Cleveland), Aug. 3, 1921, p. 10 (advt.)
>> > "Taylor Store News," published by Wm. Taylor Son & Co.
>> > Ann Sawyer says:
>> > An advertising agency wondered how it would address letters to a list
>> > of women whose names bore no indication as to whether they were "Miss"
>> > or "Mrs." The No-Less-Than-Authority, the President of Harvard,
>> > informed them that it is quite correct if in doubt, to use the prefix
>> > "Ms."
>> > ... [signed] Ann Sawyer, Taylor Personal Service Bureau, East Gallery
>> > ---
>> >
>> > I'm not sure how the president of Harvard fits into this (at the time
>> > it was Abbott Lawrence Lowell), but perhaps he recalled the
>> > Springfield Republican item from twenty years earlier.
>> >
>> > Next up is a 1922 syndicated column by Lucy Jeanne Price:
>> >
>> > ---
>> > http://newspaperarchive.com/us/texas/brownsville/brownsville-herald/1922/12-04/page-4
>> > Brownsville (Texas) Daily Herald, Dec. 4, 1922, p. 4, col. 2
>> > "New York Letter" by Lucy Jeanne Price
>> > It is a constant complaint that women no longer add "Miss" or "Mrs."
>> > before their names, and that consequently in writing a business letter
>> > to a strange woman, one never knows how to address her. One New York
>> > firm has solved the problem by the ingenious adoption of a telescoped
>> > prefix, "Ms." This designates equally well a matron or a maid, and
>> > while it may not look impressive, it is going to save much indignation
>> > on the part of those who would be wrongly addressed and who always
>> > blame the other person for not knowing their matrimonial state.
>> > ---
>> >
>> > Ms. Price's column appeared in most papers as "New York Letter,"
>> > although in the below example it's titled "On Broadway" (which Walter
>> > Winchell would later use for his column).
>> >
>> > http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn78001466/1922-12-04/ed-1/seq-8/
>> > Palatka (Fla.) Daily News, Dec. 4, 1922, p. 8, col. 2
>> >
>> > Shortly thereafter was an item credited by several papers to the
>> > Pittsburgh Dispatch (the Dispatch from 1922 is not yet digitized
>> > AFAIK, but Chronicling America should get to it eventually).
>> >
>> > ---
>> > Wall Street Journal, Dec. 8, 1922, p. 2, col. 3
>> > One large New York firm that uses mailing lists for circularization
>> > found it difficult to decide what prefix to place before a woman's
>> > name when there was nothing to indicate whether she was married. Mary
>> > Josephine Smith, for instance, could conceivably be either a
>> > bobbed-haired flapper or a buxom matron of 50. It was a tossup whether
>> > to address her as "Miss" or "Mrs," and if the guess proved wrong she
>> > became indignant.
>> > Finally a bright chap suggested the prefix "Ms." As a hedging scheme
>> > this worked fine. The clerk who made the suggestion received a raise.
>> > --Pittsburgh Dispatch.
>> > ---
>> >
>> > The item that Dennis found is a further elaboration on this, appended
>> > to a discussion about the lack of a gender-neutral third-person
>> > singular pronoun in English:
>> >
>> > ---
>> > Arizona Republican, Dec. 22, 1922, p. 4, col. 2
>> > "Our Changing Language"
>> > Perhaps too there will come along soon as ingenious an individual as a
>> > young clerk of a large New York firm that used mailing lists for
>> > circularization purposes and found it difficult to decide what prefix
>> > to use before a woman's name when there was nothing to indicate
>> > whether she was married or single.
>> > Sarah Ann Jones might be a staid married woman, an aged and
>> > respectable spinster, or a short-skirted, bobbed-haired flapper. There
>> > was no way to decide except by the flipping of a coin, heads for
>> > "Mrs." and tails for "Miss." The chances were just as even that the
>> > addressee would be affronted.
>> > This bright young clerk solved the difficulty in so simple a way that
>> > it is a wonder that nobody ever thought of it before -- by a
>> > compromise, the means of settling difficult and disputed points ever
>> > since the world began. He used the prefix "Ms.," equally applicable to
>> > married and single ladies. His salary was raised in consequence.
>> > ---

------------------------------------------------------------
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org


More information about the Ads-l mailing list