Here follows the transcript of a YouTube video I found. I quite like Mr Whistler’s odd topic range, and his diction – including its idiosyncrasies. (Tempted as I was, I refrained from Anglicising the US orthography.)
Did Simon (or his writer / editor) get it right?
Why is There an R in "Mrs" When It's Pronounced "Misses"?
You may have wondered, if you’ve ever thought about it, why there is an “r” in “Mrs.” when it’s generally spoken as “missus” (also sometimes spelled “missis”). “Mrs.” first popped up as an abbreviation for “mistress” in the late 16th century. At the time, “mistress” didn’t popularly have the negative connotation it often does today, namely referring to a woman other than a man’s wife who he has an affair with. Instead, back then “mistress”, deriving from the Old French “maistresse” (female master), was just the feminine form of “mister/master”. “Mistress” itself first popped up in English around the 14th century, originally meaning “female teacher, governess”.
By the 16th century “mistress” referred to any woman, with neither “mistress” nor “mister” referencing one’s marital status. It wasn’t until around the late 17th century that the marital status distinction began coming into play.
Once “mistress” popularly took on the alternate definition of a married man’s lover on the side, people almost universally stopped pronouncing “Mrs.” as “mistress” due to the negative implication. This change began as early as the late 17th century and by the early to mid-19th century, the “mistress” pronunciation nearly completely disappeared in favor of the more socially acceptable “missus”, which was itself just a contracted version of the now taboo “mistress”.
Interestingly, at least from a language evolution standpoint, while “mistress” started out being completely respectable and eventually was sullied, the alternative pronunciation “missus”, that we still use today, actually was somewhat frowned upon until around the 18th century. Before this, “missus” itself was considered a vulgar form of “mistress”.
Around the same time “Mrs.” showed up in the late 16th century, the abbreviations “Ms.” and “Miss” popped up, both also being short for “mistress”. Unlike the other two, “Ms.” quickly fell out of favor and “Miss” and “Mrs.” were much more commonly used until the late 20th century when “Ms.” once again became popular.
In the early 20th century, “Mrs.” was firmly entrenched as an abbreviation for a married woman and “Miss” was used for non-married women, but there was no widely accepted abbreviation for a woman whose marital status was unknown. As such, “Ms.” was suggested as a way to refer to such a woman in writing, as noted in the 1901 Republican of Springfield, Massachusetts issue:
There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill. Everyone 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… Now, clearly, what is needed is a more comprehensive term which 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. 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.
Despite this very public suggestion and several similar ones through the next half century, this usage didn’t widely catch on at first. This all changed in the 1970s when Ms. Magazine was first published. At this time, a friend of the co-founder of the magazine, Gloria Steinem, heard someone suggest “Ms.” as a title for all women, whether married or not, and Steinem decided to use it as the name of the magazine. After this, “Ms.” finally started to see the light of day, being the female equivalent of “Mr.”, which “Mrs.” had actually originally been.
"Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn." — Gore Vidal
Post by Little Jack Horner on Feb 28, 2019 15:18:43 GMT
I often watch and enjoy Simon Whistler’s YouTube videos which always seem to be reliable and which generally I trust.
I have always “known” that Mrs derives from mistress and that the longer term was not originally pejorative but I was interested to read about the origin of “Ms” which I had assumed was late 20th century. Considering the clear need for a “non-marital” title for women, it seems surprising that the term has not gained greater traction — I think most of my friends and relations still prefer Mrs and Miss. I wonder if Ms is too much associated with militant feminism? I recall serious proposals to abandon words like manuscript and manual (although the alternative personscript was a poor joke).
When I was learning to sail in the 1960s, I recall a fellow female learner being very upset when the coach said she would never make a good helmsman and only being somewhat mollified when it was made clear that she was already a competent helmswoman. And I see my spellchecker doesn’t like helmswoman even now.
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
[...] I wonder if Ms is too much associated with militant feminism? I recall serious proposals to abandon words like manuscript and manual (although the alternative personscript was a poor joke). [...]
Years ago I had to deal with a number of militant feminists, the kind who wanted to replace every man with person. When their nonsense got to me I'd refer to the village where they lived – Goolmangar, an Aboriginal word – as Goolpersongar. They didn't see the "joke". I'd also use words such as personfacturing just to annoy them.