What Does 'Ms.' Stand For?

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Most titles we use in front of people’s names in English are abbreviations of longer words. Dr. stands for doctor, Mr. for mister, and Mrs. for mistress (though we stopped pronouncing it that way). What does Ms. stand for?

Nothing but itself. The title Ms. was made up, not as a shortening of another word, but as a way to avoid commenting on the marital status of a woman. Traditionally, Miss was the proper term for an unmarried woman, and Mrs. was for a married woman. Ms. did not become generally accepted as a title until well into the 1980s, after years of lobbying for its use by feminist activists.

The origin of the title, however, can be traced all the way back to 1901, when it was proposed in the Springfield Sunday Republican as a way to avoid an embarrassing faux pas when speaking about a woman whose “domestic situation” was unknown. It was noted that the pronunciation mizz, a sort of slurring indeterminacy between miss and missus, was already a common way to avoid making such a social blunder. Ms. put a formal label on what people were already doing, though its acceptance in formal circles took nearly a century.

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Wednesday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Computer Monitors, Plant-Based Protein Powder, and Blu-ray Sets

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Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 2. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

What Is a Scuttlebutt, and Why Do We Like to Hear It?

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Casual conversation is home to a variety of prompts. You might ask someone how they’re doing, what’s new, or if they’ve done anything interesting recently. Sometimes, you can ask them what the scuttlebutt is. “What’s the scuttlebutt?” you’d say, for example, and then they’d reply with the solicited scuttlebutt.

We can easily infer that scuttlebutt is a slang term for information or maybe even gossip. But what exactly is scuttlebutt, and why did it become associated with idle water cooler talk?

According to Merriam-Webster, a scuttlebutt referred to a cask on sailing ships in the 1800s that contained drinking water for those on board. It was later used as the name of the drinking fountain found on a ship or in a Naval installation. The cask was known as a butt, while scuttle was taken from the French word escoutilles and means hatch or hole. A scuttlebutt was therefore a hatch in the cask.

Because sailors usually received orders from shouting supervisors, talking amongst themselves was discouraged. Since sailors could congregate around the fountain, it became a place to finally catch up and exchange gossip, making scuttlebutt synonymous with casual conversation. The scuttlebutt was really the only place to do it.

Nautical technology made the scuttlebutt obsolete, but the term endured, becoming a catch-all word for unfounded rumors.

The next time someone asks you what the scuttlebutt is, now you can tell them.

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