Will.Whim

A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

First mention: first use of "Ms" in print

There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill. Every one has been put in an embarrassing position by ignorance of the status of some woman. To call a maiden Mrs is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts. When an author puts on the title page of a book Marion Smith, it is not even possible to be certain of the sex of the writer, and it is decidedly awkward for a reviewer to repeat the name in full over and over again. It would be a convenience if explanatory titles were added to the signature, but it seems to be regarded as “bad form.” Signatures to letters also cause no end of trouble to correspondents. The “Miss” or “Mrs” sometimes added in brackets are but an awkward makeshift, and often it is taken for granted that the recipient of the letter will remember the proper style of the writer, when, as a matter of fact he does nothing of the sort. Now, clearly, what is needed is a more comprehensive term which does homage to the sex without expression any view as to their domestic situation, and what could be simpler, or more logical than the retention of what the two doubtful terms have in common. The abbreviation “Ms” is simple, it is easy to write, and the person concerned can translate it properly according to circumstances. For oral use it might be rendered as “Miss,” 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.

Springfield (Mass.) Sunday Republican, November 10, 1901. Via Ben Zimmer.

Update: Ben Zimmer wrote to note that, in the last sentence, a word I could not decipher was “oral.”

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One response to “First mention: first use of "Ms" in print

  1. Ben Zimmer June 24, 2009 at 8:42 am

    Thanks for posting! The final sentence begins “For oral use…”

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