In the U.S., “Ms.” is used as an honorific (I think that’s the right term) instead of “Mrs.” or “Miss” if you do not know a woman’s marital status, or in professional correspondence. Do any other languages have an equivalent?
In Japanese, you would translate “Ms” as the honorific “san”, which does not even specify the person’s gender, i.e., “Suzuki-san” could be Mr Suzuki or Ms Suzuki.
French doesn’t, nor Spanish as far as I know. You’re either Mademoiselle/Senorita or Madame/Senora.
There’s one other case that I know about, and which has changed in my lifetime. In German, “Frau” is now used for both married and unmarried women. It used to be used only for married women, and unmarried women were “Fräulein”. So now “Frau Müller” is the equivalent of “Ms Müller”.
My understanding is that Señora and Madame, as distinguished from Señprota and Madamoiselle respectively, do not target marital status but age, by and large, so that an older woman, regardless of marital status, would receive the former honorific and a young woman the latter. This could be a matter of local, regional, or national usage, though.
Norwegian doesn’t, but then hardly anyone uses our words for Mr. and Mrs. either anymore.
This is one of those “it depends” answers.
Welsh uses all four English titles-- Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms.-- borrowed with abbreviations and all, but there is an literary convention which does not reference marital status at all:
Y bon(h)(edd)(ig)(wr) = Mr.
Y fon(h)(edd)(ig)es = Ms.
All the parentheses are trying to account for the variants: bonwr, bonedd, boneddwr, bonheddwr, bonheddigwr, etc. I believe the abbreviations are “y bon.” and “y fon.” I’ve only ever seen this used in very formal or very old-fashioned contexts.
Neither do we in California, although that may be less true elsewhere in the U.S. Since finishing graduate school, where many of the still liked to be called “Doctor”, I can’t think of any social or work situation I was in, on a protracted basis, where I was obliged to address anyone with an honorific.
By coincidence, I just watched the new Star Trek movie last night. I was amused that when Captain Christopher Pike introduced himself to his would-be nemesis Captain Nero, he immediately started addressing him as Christopher. In the Star Trek universe, I don’t think Romulans are supposed to have last names, or they don’t use them in dealings with non-Romulans. That might have something to do with it. But then, given the direction in which things are evolving, how could one expect otherwise? By the 23rd century, the only place we’ll see last names will be on birth certificates, diplomas, and gravestones.
Oh, and tax returns.
Or maybe last names will make a comeback! In the Bible, or in Roman times, I don’t remember many people bothering with last names when addressing each other. Of course I am no Bible scholar.
Thanks for all the speedy replies. I posted this, went to lunch, and badda-bing badda-boom, lots of good info when I return.
In most languages the honorific for married women has simply come to be used for all adult women. IIRC in the case of French Madame (lit. “My Lady”) was only used for noblewomen until the Revolution. Common women were addressed as Mademoiselle (lit. “My little lady”). At least if an honorific was used at all. Since WWII it’s become common practice to address all women over 18 as “Madame/Mme.”, except for waitresses & actresses/singers who retain “Mademoiselle/Mlle”, but one should really use Mme with them as well.
In English it was formely the practice to address actresses, female singers, authoresses, etc as “Miss” regardless of marital status. These were also usually the only women to keep using their maiden names (at least professionaly) after they got married. This didn’t always work out well, Dorothy Parker was was often referred to as Miss Parker, even though Parker was the name of her first husband and she herself preferred Mrs. Parker.
Right, there’s a parallel case in Dutch, where the married woman’s title “Mevrouw” (abbr. “Mevr.”) is now used for women in general. The original unmarried woman’s honorific “Juffrouw” is hardly used at all anymore except for little girls, AFAICT.
In fact, Dutch people will often carry this custom over into English and write “Mrs. X” instead of “Ms. X” when addressing an unmarried adult female English-speaker.
I think this is the case in much of the Spanish-speaking world, although I once met an elderly unmarried lady in Spain who corrected me when I addressed her as señora, by firmly stating “¡señorita!” Otherwise there is an unspecified point some time in a woman’s 4th decade where people simultaneously start addressing her as señora, whether she is married or not. Same thing happens in Italy with signorina/signora.
You are right about the dutch ‘juffrouw’ and it not being used. About your second point, I often wonder how to adress a woman when I’m writing a letter or e-mail in English without knowing whether she is married or not. What do you use?
In languages I know, there’s no Ms., but calling an older or married woman Miss. instead of Ma’am is considered a big complement.
I don’t think that’s the correct description. From what I’ve read, in the US, each form of adress carries a specific connotation:
Mrs. = married woman
Miss = unmarried woman
Ms = introduced especially as neutral word, but has now aquired the meaning of “feminist woman who wants to be coy about her marital status”
Whereas in German, it used to be
Frau = married woman
Fräulein = unmarried woman, regardless of age
before the feminist moevement of the 60s, but instead of introducing a third honorific, the later usage was delegated to apply only to girls below legal age now, so today:
Frau = adult woman, regardless of marital status
Fräulein = young girl (usually teen) (or specific, a waitress, though that’s getting frowned upon, too).
The reasoning was that adult men are only called “Herr” (Mr) regardless of marital status (and there’s no special honorific for young boys similar to Fräulein), so why make a third honorific, instead of broadening the honorific for adult women?
And which languages are these?
It’s strange how much this has changed in one generation because of the 68 revolution: I hear how in the 50s, unmarried women (e.g. teachers) insisted on being adressed as “Fräulein” (Miss) because they were proud of having choosen to remain unmarried (although I wonder how much of that was compensation at a time when society at large considered the true call and purpose of women to become wife and mother, and while becoming a nun or teacher was necessary, it was still settling for second-best).
At that time, though, adressing an adult woman (esp. with children) as Miss when she wasn’t would have been considered an insult - it implied that the children were illegitmate, and even without children, that the woman hadn’t been able to catch a man and elevate herself to the real position of wife and mother.
Today, in most Western European countries I can think of, and despite the youth craze that’s also prevalent there (though not as extreme as in the US), adult women would still feel insulted to be adressed as Miss instead of Mrs, because Miss is now reserved for girls not for adults, so you imply that you consider them to be not adults.
The only connotation “Ms” carries anymore (at least for most people) is that of “adult woman who doesn’t have a doctorate”. It was nothing to do with a women “being coy about her marital status” since her marital status is never any more or less relevant than that of a man.
Speaking of women who never married my great aunt (a teacher) never married. She didn’t care if she was addressed as “Ms” instead of “Miss” or vice versa, but did get quite annoyed when people assumed she was a “Mrs” because of her age.
Hmm, but I don’t see any women being called Ms instead of Mrs in the news media, for example - it’s Mrs. Hillary Clinton, Mrs. Michelle Obama etc. I see less Miss used in the Media or on the net, but that might be more a function of age, and that social expectation in US culture that adult people stop living together and get married, so most women of a certain age will be Mrs.
If marital status were indeed not relevant anymore for women, then shouldn’t the Ms as neutral honorific have replaced both Mrs and Miss?
What I’m noticing most in older literature and holdouts in older people is the complete absorption of the wife with the first name: Mr and Mrs. John Smith - not only did women loose their last name with marriage, they also lost their first name, too! When exactly did that stop in the US - the 70s or later?
Varies by region. My unmarried elementary school Spanish class teacher was a Srta (señorita) even though she was most likely pushing 70 when she taught us. The age is not a joke, her last name was weird enough that my grandfather recognized it, and said he had met her elder brothers. He was over 70 then.
Personally… I look for rings, failing that, go by looks. Old enough to be my mom, gets a “doña” (honorific). Closer to my age gets a “señorita”. I’m 26, btw.