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Ms vs. Miss

Ms. vs. Miss: The Origin

The Emily Post Institute says Ms. is the default address for women in America. Use it if you don't know a woman's marital status, or she is married but hasn't made her preference clear — it should offend no one. But Ms. has only been used for the last 40 years.

The abbreviation first appeared as a space saver on tombstones and in headlines, and it was not meant to indicate marital status or, the euphemism preferred at the time, "domestic situation." But in 1901, The Republican, a Massachusetts newspaper, advocated Ms. as a new term.

Clearly, what is needed is a more comprehensive term that does homage to the sex without expressing any views 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.

Yet it didn't take off for another 70 years. Feminist advocate Sheila Michaels saw the abbreviation in 1961 and assumed it was a typo. In 1971 she suggested its use on a radio talk show to fill the void in honorific titles for women. Gloria Steinem was listening and decided it would be perfect for her new publication Ms. Magazine, catapulting it into the mainstream.


Even though the US government approved Ms. for official documents in '72, opponents of nonsexist language resisted its use until Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro settled it once and for all when she was the 1984 vice-presidential candidate. She went by her maiden name, though married, and pointed out that Mrs. would not be correct — as Ferraro wasn't her married name — and Miss was incorrect, too, as she was married.

Now I wonder if she started the trend of keeping your maiden name after marriage, too?

Join The Conversation
postmodernsleaze postmodernsleaze 6 years
@ Pistil-- Ms. sounds like mizz, while Miss has the "s" sound ending. I use "Ms." because I do not want to be identified according to marital status and the social implications that go along with it, like SKG said. I do not want to be defined by my relationship status. I am my own woman. Even when/if I get married, I will continue use "Ms."
Pistil Pistil 6 years
Don't Miss and Ms. sound the same? Jessy, I have the same idea regarding Miss/Ms./Mrs., Master/Mr... According to the bank I am a Miss.
jessy777 jessy777 6 years
I use Ms. because Miss is too young sounding and I find it offensive for an adult woman. It is certainly a personal choice and an individual's chosen title should be respected. I think of the three titles as a sequence. Miss is for children, Ms. for young women and adults and Mrs. (if you choose) after marriage.
amber512 amber512 6 years
I prefer Ms. as I am married and have kept my maiden name. So I agree, miss doesn't seem right and mrs. is obviously wrong for me.
Studio16 Studio16 6 years
I was taught that Ms. is for married women who retain their maiden names or divorced women who retain their former married names. If I know a woman's circumstances, I use the appropriate title. if I don't, I use Ms. If she told me she preferred Ms., I'd use it. Personally: I'm not married and I prefer Miss. I feel like Miss sounds younger, fresher, and prettier than Ms., which just strikes me as kind of a dowdy title, at least for a young, never married woman. When I'm married, I'll be Mrs.
stephley stephley 6 years
Ferraro didn't start the trend, her candidacy just took it mainstream. The Lucy Stone League was focused on women’s names in the 1920’s - her words constituted the initial motto of the League: “My name is the symbol of my identity which must not be lost.”
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