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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