Why did we start using "Ms" instead of calling all adult women "Mrs"?

Inspired by this thread. Why did Anglophones create a new honorific for women when other European language speakers just shifted to referring to all adult women by the honorific for married women (Madame, Frau, Señora, etc)? Is English the only language what did this?

I’ll try to answer this without getting in trouble. Ms., pronounced Mizz, was already an all-purpose title in the US south, without the new spelling. The women’s rights movement was looking for a way to get away from the old ways of treating unmarried women as less serious than married ones. Of course, all of them were not taken as seriously as men. The new title seemed like a good place to start.

That was in the 1960s. Things are somewhat different now. Attitudes have changed. Now, don’t get the idea that women’s rights is a solved thing; there is still a lot of work to be done.

I’m going to stop now, and see if you think this old guy made any sense of it.

Here is the Wikipedia article. There were very early uses of Ms but it’s current usage didn’t take hold until 1969. The magazine named Ms was started in 1972 which was when it really took off.

I’m not so sure that those other languages exactly use Madame, Frau, Señora, etc. for all adult women ( those over 18) . Governments and businesses might - but the impression I’ve gotten is that in ordinary life , an adult woman who appears to be under a certain age (25-30ish) is addressed as Fraulein , Mademoiselle etc. unless she is known to be married and the “married” version is used for those over that age. Which has its own issues.

I wasn’t aware what those other languages are doing. I am curious how such a usage change was effected, and whether it has really become the most common usage. I also wonder how women in those countries feel about that change. I could see how it would be jarring for a single woman to be addressed as she remembers only married women being addressed.

In Japan, by contrast, the different modes of address are largely based on age. and I don’t think they have changed much. Among people to whom you are not related, young women might be addressed as “older sister” and later in life as “aunty” (i.e. a woman of a certain age), and much later as “grandma.” There is also “okusan” which means “wife” (i.e. someone’s wife not yours), but I have seen negative reactions to that when it is not precisely accurate. Of course, if you know it you simply address them by name, which does not include any marriage indicator; married women usually adopt their husband’s surname but if you’ve only been introduced you may not know that much background. (Caveat: I may have missed some modes of address, and currently I base most of my knowledge of such things off of Japanese TV dramas because I haven’t been there in a few years.)

The idea was so useful, I invented it independently. In those days (1960’s and 70’s) it often happened that if you said Mrs. Jones, then Miss Jones would correct you, rudely, and if you said Miss Jones, then Mrs. Jones would correct you, rudely. (And asking was also seen as rude!) I got tired of that, and so to “slurring” the word, into Miz, for maximum ambiguity.

The concept promotes equality. There isn’t an equivalent of Miss/Mrs for men, but now there’s an equivalent of Mr for women. It was a great idea and I embrace it energetically.

(Despite the fact that, when I use it, I sometimes get corrected…rudely.)

“Mistress” DID mean “adult woman” in the 18th C, and was abbreviated “Mrs.”. “Miss” was for girls, and the male equivalent was “Master” for young boys.

The issue is that is “Mrs” means “old” instead of “married”, it has all the same problems, unless it’s applied to all women over 18. But it feels weird to call a 22 year old “Mrs.”. So Ms.

Slavic languages, or at least the one I am familiar with, have general terms of address for grown up man and woman, and young person man and woman. While partly synonymous with ‘Mrs’ and probably used as such, this term would not necessarily imply the woman was married or using her married name.

20th century Russian and other fellow travellers also had the blessing of the non-gendered ‘Comrade’. We don’t hear it too much any more, which is a shame, but it gets rid of all that ageist/sexist crap.

Bennet Cerf told a story about a girl in grade school, wise beyond her years, who “promises to give Kathleen Windsor (racy book author) a run for her money”.

Teacher: What’s the difference between Madam and Mademoiselle?

Girl: Monsieur.

And trying to deal with that by using “Mrs.” for everybody would have carried the implication that the married title was properly more serious than the unmarried title – in other words, that there actually was something wrong with a grown woman who wasn’t married, so we ought to try to pretend that everyone was married in order to get any respect.

There was also an implication to some people that the title “Mrs.” meant “already owned by some specific male, so hands off”. Again, using that title for everyone would then imply that it was better to be owned by a man than not to be; when what we were trying to say was that no, married or not, we weren’t /aren’t owned by anybody. (Yes, I know that generally women who use “Mrs.” don’t think of themselves as being owned by their husbands. There’s enough history of marriage law to lend some strength to the association, though.)

I don’t hear “Mrs.” used without a name, as “Senora” can be. You’d say “Excuse me, Mrs. Smith,” but not just “Excuse me, Mrs.” The English term of address for an adult woman you don’t know is “Ma’am,” and that’s not reserved for married women. Interestingly, “Miss” can be used with or without a name, though “Mister” isn’t used much without a name anymore; most people would say “Sir.” I’m not sure about other languages, but at least with Spanish it’s not a direct parallel. It at least makes a certain amount of sense that the no-name term of address would not be dependent on a martial status the speaker would have no way of knowing.

How women feel about being called “Ma’am” is a whole 'nother can of worms. I’ve always liked it, but my opinion is not shared by all.

Practices certainly differ between languages, but as far as German is concerned, I can attest that “Fräulein” has fallen out of use very thoroughly. Some old folks might still use it to address a waitress, but by and large the common usage (at least in Germany - maybe other German-speaking countries do it differently) nowadays is to address any adult woman as “Frau”, irrespective of marital status.

I moved to the German-speaking part of Switzerland in 2000 and was instructed then that Fraulein was outdated and considered rude, for anyone who was already working. That means even a female apprentice, who is only 16, is already called Frau.

In fact, it used to be that apprentices were referred to as Lehrlings (male) and Lehrtochters (female). Lehrtochter has also been banished in the last 20 years.

Here’s a recent thread that goes into the history and common adoption of the term.

As far as I know, we have never called ALL adult women “Mrs.”, just married women. “Miss” always referred to single women, and “Mrs.” to married women. What about married women who become divorced or widowed? Reverting to Miss never caught on, so “Ms.” became popular.

I’m no Jerry Lewis fan, but what about, “Hey, Lady!!”?

Addressing a female whose name and status is unknown can be difficult here. Missus, Luv, Darlin’, Lady, Hen, are just a few of the local variants. While they may be acceptable in the market, they are not okay in the workplace or other more formal settings.

Some years ago there was (and still is) a strong directive in the NHS that staff should avoid such familiar forms and should always address patients by name and, where possible, ask them what their preference is.

I don’t believe this is true. Married women were referred to by her husband’s full name: Mrs. John Smith. If her husband died or she divorced there were several options, but she retained the Mrs. She would be addressed as Mrs. John Smith, Mrs. Jane Smith or Mrs. Jane MaidenName depending on preference. Once married, women didn’t revert to Miss.

The change to Ms became popular in the 1970s for other reasons, although it had been around since the beginning of the century in some form.

Current etiquette advice is fairly convoluted but Ms works in nearly all situations if preferred.

I’ve noticed over the past few years the honorific “Boss”, used towards both men and women. Ask for help at the hardware store, you’re called boss. Number is up at the meat counter? You’re “boss”.

It took me aback the first few times I was addressed thus. But it’s a clever step-around for a bunch of issues. Might just be a SoCal thing.

I am younger than a lot of folks on here. By the mid 1980’s in the South you could refer to all women older than 18 as “Miss” or “Miz” and be good. I was never corrected otherwise.