July 7, 2017

"The abbreviation ‘Ms.’ is simple, it is easy to write... For oral use it might be rendered as ‘Mizz’..."

"... which would be a close parallel to the practice long universal in many bucolic regions, where a slurred Mis’ does duty for Miss and Mrs. alike."

So said The Sunday Republican, a Springfield, Massachusetts newspaper in 1901. And:
In his 1949 book, “The Story of Language,” the linguist Mario Pei wrote, “Feminists … have often proposed that the two present-day titles be merged into …‘Miss’ (to be written ‘Ms.’), with a plural ‘Misses’ (written ‘Mss.’).”
I'm reading all that in a NYT obituary for Sheila Michaels, whose claim to fame is that she "introduced" the term that she did not coin "into common parlance."

Ms. Michaels first saw the word written in the address her friend's copy of News & Letters, which the NYT calls "a Marxist publication."
The Marxists... appeared to have had a handle on “Ms.” and its historical meaning.

For Ms. Michaels, something in that odd honorific resonated....
The Marxism? The "bucolic" sound? The NYT implies it was (at least in part) the latter.

Growing up in St. Louis, she had known women who were called “Miz” So-and-So — a respectful generic used traditionally there, as it also was in the American South.

“It was second nature to me,” she said in 2016, recalling the term’s familiar sound.

An ardent feminist, she had long dreamed of finding an honorific to fill a gap in the English lexicon: a term for women that, like “Mr.,” did not trumpet its subject’s marital status.

Her motives were personal as well as political. Ms. Michaels held a rather dim view of marriage, she said, partly as a result of her mother’s experiences both in and out of wedded matrimony....

36 comments:

rhhardin said...

Ms. had a whole magazine in the 70s, as any guy with a girlfriend noticed.

Bob Ellison said...

What will happen to Mr. and Ms. after the gender revolution?

roadgeek said...

I use Ms. in my correspondence, both privately and at work. When you don't know the marital status, and sometimes even when you do, it just works.

AlbertAnonymous said...

Why do you read the NYTimes? It's garbage! Garbage and fake news!

CJinPA said...

I am at this moment listening to a Harvard talk by Jordan B. Peterson. So, my tolerance for Cultural Marxists is alarmingly low.

But, my Mom insisted her students call her "Ms." back in the 70s. She's a Republican, but her marriage wasn't going well. Therefore, I mark this Michaels' passing neutrally.

n.n said...

Bob Ellison:

Senor and Senora are up and coming. Although, Obama's CAIR (Catastrophic Anthropogenic Immigration Reform) program may have changed the calculus.

Ann Althouse said...

"Why do you read the NYTimes? It's garbage! Garbage and fake news!"

There's nothing but garbage to poke around in. It's better garbage.

I guess I could skip news altogether. What do you think I should read? The Daily Caller and Breitbart? They're just not good enough. I'm looking for some substance, not a propaganda source.

I could read high-class literature. I used to do that more, but I like feeling connected to the present world and to have stimulation of things to write about.

It's like when I venture out in Google street view. I'm not looking for the highest quality buildings and signs. I'm looking for interesting things that activate me.

rhhardin said...

It's not better garbage, it's unintentionally amusing garbage.

tcrosse said...

I guess I could skip news altogether. What do you think I should read? The Daily Caller and Breitbart? They're just not good enough. I'm looking for some substance, not a propaganda source.

The Daily Telegraph balanced with the Guardian.

AlbertAnonymous said...

Better garbage? High class literature? Looking for substance, not a propaganda source?

Wow! And you, a law professor...

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Here was the choice:

(A) expand Mrs. beyond its then accepted meaning to be applicable to all adult women.
(B) introduce Ms. to common usage without supplanting Mrs.
(C) replace Mrs. with the more general Ms.

A would have been the best choice. Did feminists make a mistake in choosing B over A? Or did they fail at C and have to settle for B?


Unknown said...

When I was growing up in the South, "Miss" served this function and could be used for any woman even those (like your teachers) known to be married. "Miz" was a redneck term used the same way

I do use "Ms" nowdays, but I refuse to put a period after it. It is *not* an abbreviation.

tcrosse said...

Is there a version of Ms. in any other language ? Is there a female title which straddles Mme. and Mlle., Sra. and Srta. ? Or is it just an Anglophone thing ?

CJinPA said...

I guess I could skip news altogether. What do you think I should read? The Daily Caller and Breitbart? They're just not good enough. I'm looking for some substance, not a propaganda source.

Personally, I'm interested in your take on prevailing opinion. For now, that will mean a lot of NY Times and Washington Post.

Etienne said...

In the military we didn't use all that happy horse-shit.

Ma'am. Short for Madame.

Drill Sergeants are allowed to call them shit-birds as they do for men.

Ann Althouse said...

"It's not better garbage, it's unintentionally amusing garbage."

That makes it better from the point of view of someone looking for things to make fun of.

William said...

I gave up on the NYT, but I still subscribe to The New Yorker. Their coverage of Trump is unrelentingly hostile and contemptuous, but they nearly always have a profile about some dead, disturbed poet that I enjoy reading.. Elizabeth Bishop had an astounding number of suicidal friends and lovers. One guy, just before offing himself, dropped a postcard to Elizabeth. The postcard simply said "It's all your fault".....I admire Ted Hiughes second wife. She took the trouble to commit suicide in the exact same way that Sylvia Plath had done. I look forward to a future New Yorker profile on Ted Hughes. He's New Yorker material......You just know Elizabeth Bishop and Ted Hughes would never vote for Trump.

William said...

Senorita seems more sexist than Miss. Senorita could be translated as Little Missy. Right thinking Spanish women should protest this demeaning appellation.

Leora said...

Ms Althouse reads the NY Times so I don't have to. I am grateful.

Rick Turley said...

I find some interesting reading in the Daily Mail's US coverage. John Lennon read it which is how he knew how many holes were in the roads of Blackburn, Lancashire and that a man blew his mind out in a car.

Mostly I read blogs (Instapundit first) and Drudge. I haven't read a physical newspaper in years. Seems a very foreign thing now.

John said...

I'm with Roadgeek.

I like Ms and use it pretty consistently though I tend to avoid Mr & Ms in general.

About 80% of the time I have no idea of my correspondant's marital status, nor should I. None of my business.

Ms keeps me from screwing up.

John Henry

tcrosse said...

The standing position to Ws.
Is traditionally Hs.
When women essay
To do it that way
They're very likely to Ms.

Jupiter said...

"A would have been the best choice. Did feminists make a mistake in choosing B over A? Or did they fail at C and have to settle for B?"

If they had actually had a shred of intellectual consistency, they would have chosen a term which makes no reference to sex. Just address everyone as Mr.

But of course, intellectual consistency is inconsistent with the primary aim of feminism, which is not merely to have it both ways, but to have it every possible way. They will have their cake, eat it too, and someone else will pay for it. And they won't gain any weight. And they'll force a Christian to bake it. And ....

Bruce Hayden said...

"I use Ms. in my correspondence, both privately and at work. When you don't know the marital status, and sometimes even when you do, it just works"

I pretty much use "Ms" unless I know that the recipient expects "Mrs". I have long thought that having "Mr" for men, regardless of marital status, but "Miss" or "Mrs" for women based on marital status was the height of sexism. Why is the marital status of women so much ch more important than that of men? And, in today's culture, marital status is of much lesser import anyway, since we are no longer trying to populate an empty continent, while fighting disease, Indians, and birthing problems, but instead face the need for some ZPG.

Bruce Hayden said...

Let me add that I like "Ms" over the alternatives, since it nicely mirrors "Mr". "Women" has long bothered me, since it seems dependent, maybe in an Adam's Rib sort of way, to "Men". Unfortunately, every alternatives that I have seen has seemed contrived. I would be happier with either a more Latin derived noun, or something like "Mel" and "fem" that you sometimes see in sci fi.

Of course, this may all be moot with the move towards transgenderism. It may make sense to just completely do away with sexual distinctions completely - not just pronouns, but nouns too. Much easier than keeping track of a bunch of such, and then maybe changing them as the party at issue changes preferred gender. We shall see.

rehajm said...

The garbage will do.

eddie willers said...

I could read high-class literature. I used to do that more

Me too, until Donna Tartt's godawful The Goldfinch. Back to detective stories.

And as unknown pointed out, in the South it always was Miz whether married or not.

Molly said...

I'm with unknown at 10:15 -- no period. Like Harry S Truman. We get to do our own little sub-genre of virtue signalling (my grammar is better than yours).

mikeski said...

Senorita could be translated as Little Missy. Right thinking Spanish women should protest this demeaning appellation.

Madame/Madamoiselle in French is the same as Senora/Senorita. As are all the European female names that are versions of male names with -elle and -ette type suffixes. And Japanese female names ending in -ko. And probably something similar in every other language in the world... women used to want to be thought of as small and young and cute.

So right-thinking modern women worldwide should be protesting a whole lot of their languages.

CStanley said...

In 2005 I was interviewed by the NYT and the author called me back after the interview to ask whether I preferred Ms. or Dr. as my title. I replied neither, I preferred Mrs. (the context involved a nonprofit for which I was working, and I felt it would have been misleading to use my veterinary title because it was unrelated to the organization's mission.)

I was told that the NYT did not use Mrs., and the female journalist then got into an intense discussion about why in the world I would object to being called Ms.

In the end, she relented and published the story with me as "Mrs. Stanley." I believe I could hear some exasperated huffing at the end of the phone call.

I probably shouldn't have antagonized her though as her story ended up leaving our nonprofit out completely and instead including information about a different group.

Fernandinande said...

ngram shows "Ms." from 1800 and with about the same frequency until about 1970.
(Note: when google says "case-insensitive" they really mean "case-sensitive" - try it!).

Gahrie said...

Is there a version of Ms. in any other language ? Is there a female title which straddles Mme. and Mlle., Sra. and Srta. ? Or is it just an Anglophone thing ?

Apparently, English is the only language that is being attacked, because oppression or something.

Yet Spanish, which is both a much more patriarchal language (explicitly patriarchal) and comes from a culture that is at least as guilty as the U.S. and the U.K. gets a pass.

What is the word for father is Spanish? What is the word for mother? What is the word for parent?

Could you imagine the screams of outrage if the English word for "parent" was "father"? But no one seems to give a shit that it is that way in Spanish.

sykes.1 said...

Unknown is right. It is not an abbreviation, and should written "Ms". It is actually a conflation of Mrs. and Miss, and was invented by a mail order catalog company so as to avoid errors in assigning Mrs. and Miss to recipients.

tcrosse said...

Apparently, English is the only language that is being attacked, because oppression or something.

But wait, it gets worse. Some other languages assign genders to inanimate objects, without consulting the wishes of those objects themselves. Suppose la chaise identifies itself as truly masculine, or le papier decides it is a feminine object trapped in a masculine noun ? What is to be done ?

EMyrt said...

THERE'S NO PERIOD AFTER MS
SHEESH

i am myrt

Quaestor said...

I'm looking for some substance, not a propaganda source.

Plumbers are often looking for the same substance.