[lg policy] Is it Miss or Ms? We don ’t always agree on titles or how to use them

Dennis Baron debaron at ILLINOIS.EDU
Wed Jul 28 01:48:03 UTC 2010

There's a new post on the Web of Language:

Is it Miss or Ms? We don’t always agree on titles or how to use them

A rare 1885 cite shows Ms. as an abbreviation for Miss (Ms.  
Parrtington is contrasted with Mrs. Dull), from the Montpelier Vermont  
Watchman, is also an early example of an advertisement masquerading as  
a news item.

Ever since Ms. emerged as a marriage-neutral alternative to Miss and  
Mrs. in the 1970s, linguists have been trying to trace the origins of  
this new honorific. Ms. goes back at least to the 1760s, when it  
served as an abbreviation for Mistress (remember Shakespeare’s  
Mistress Quickly?) and for Miss, already a shortened form of Mistress,  
which was also sometimes spelled Mis. The few early instances of Ms.  
carried no particular information about matrimonial status (it was  
used for single or for married women) and no political statement about  
gender equality. Eventually Miss and Mrs. emerged as the standard  
honorifics for women, just as Mr. was used for men (Master, from which  
Mr. derives, was often used for boys, though it’s not common today).  
While Miss was often prefixed to the names of unmarried women or used  
for young women or girls, it could also refer to married women. And  
Mrs., typically reserved for married women, did not always signal  
marital status (for example, widows and divorced women often continued  
to use Mrs.). The spread of "Ms." over the past forty years both  
simplifies and complicates the title paradigm. . . .

read the entire post on the Web of Language: http://bit.ly/weblan

Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321


read the Web of Language:

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