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

Many years ago I was in Manhattan (the one in New York) at McDonalds and asked for a refill for my iced tea. I later learned that the proper way to ask for a refill for your tea in Manhattan is to say something like, “Gimme some more tea.” Not knowing any better, I said to the young lady behind the counter, “Ma’am, may I have some more tea, please?” She did not seem offended at all. She smiled broadly and called out to her coworkers, “Did you hear that? He called me ‘Ma’am’.” She then proceeded to pull a couple of her coworkers to the counter and said to me, “Say it again. Say it again.”

Norway just did away with using honorifics altogether. I was born in the seventies and have never referred to someone, except in jest, with an honorific, except for the use of the Norwegian equivalent to ‘miss’, which is still in use for female teachers in elementary school. Since I never used it any other way those two uses seem completely distinct in my mind.

Norwegian predominantly use our given names, although there are areas of society where using your surname is more common, but then you just use the surname. No mr. or mrs. involved.

That’s weird. The first time I was called ma’am I was… Maybe 18? My father asked me to take a leaf of a sick tomato plant to the county agricultural extension, to find out what was wrong with it. The guy manning the place was barely older than I was, and he called me ma’am. I remember it, because I was excited to have been treated as and adult, not as a child.

I vaguely recall some female comedian decades ago who had a song “When Did I Become a Ma’am?”. Since it appears to go with “Sir” it would be the same reaction perhaps to someone being called “Sir”. I suppose there are some areas of the country/world where “ma’am” is considered an old lady address.

I guy I knew had recently left the US Air Force, and I heard him bristle at being called “sir.” He said, “I am not a sir anymore. I was promoted to the rank of Mister!”

I don’t think the origins lie with some people in Southern US states pronouncing miss as Ms. According to Wiki, it was a term from the 17th in England, a different way of shortening Mistress when written down. Even apart the sources on there, that seems far more plausible than Southern US usage becoming popular in the rest of the English-speaking world.

Carrps - really? Why? £5 notes have existed for a couple of centuries. Was it just that it was when they changed the size or something? I can’t believe they’d simply never seen a £5 note.

It was weird to me, too, and I thought the same things you did. I didn’t have to chance to go into it with them. Maybe they were exceptionally poor? I don’t know.

This is also my understanding. Women, young AND old decided their relationship status neither defined them nor did it need to be announced at every mention of their name.

Initially it was met with disdain when used, ‘oh! You must be one of them…’feminists’!’ Fortunately, that didn’t last too long.

There is NO reason why anyone needs to know my relationship status, just because it’s tradition! If a mans status doesn’t need be defined than neither dies a woman’s!

That is certainly why I adopted “Ms” as my preferred term of address, as a young woman. And why I’ve kept it.

Now I’m rooting for “Mx”, the gender-neutral honorific. (pronounced “mix”, or with a schwa.) Do you really need to know if I am a woman or a man if you’ve never met me? I would argue that in most business contexts, you shouldn’t need that information.

It would also nicely solve the problem of people guessing which title to use, and guessing wrong. This is very common in business contexts if the people haven’t met in person and the first name is neutral or unusual in the writer’s culture; especially in occupations that are thought of as being primarily one gender or the other.

And you’re entirely correct that in most such contexts the gender doesn’t, or at any rate shouldn’t, matter.

thorny – does not like to be addressed as “mister” – locust

When “Ms.” was first coming into use, along with other gender-neutral words like “chairperson”, “mail carrier” etc., William Safire among others opposed the usage, ostensibly on the grounds that it was a corruption of the English language (his actual reasons may have been more ignoble). Douglas Hofstadter wrote an amazingly witty parody of Safire’s position in his “Person Paper on Purity in Language”. It takes a paragraph or two before you see what Hofstadter is doing, but it’s a very striking indirect rebuttal to the view that sexist language should be acceptable because it’s traditional.

I loved Hofstadter’s take on that.

My wife was of an age to be in the middle of that. her mini version in that general direction was

Later today the USPS personperson will arrive to deliver the person to my personbox.

Wouldn’t perSON also be gendered and therefore unacceptable?

Even if they were exceptionally poor, they’d have seen a fiver. Very odd!

Zakalwe - no, of course not.

Technically no, deriving from the Latin word persona rather than English “son” or cognates. (Of course, that rationale would also ruin the “personperson” joke, because “mail” likewise is etymologically derived from impersonal words for “wallet” or “bag” rather than from the gender label “male”.)

My post was tongue-in-cheek and riffing off the unacceptability of “mail” in LSLGuy’s post.

You do realize there was (is?) a movement to respell “women” as “womyn”?

I will add too, this is my understanding of the source and original use of the Ms. honorific and is a perfectly reasonable demand.

As for ambiguity, “they” has been used since time immemorial for that lack of preciseness in language. I would assume the obvious counterpoint is that people can be called whatever they want, whether it’s him, her, “Artist Formerly Known As Prince”, or “Not The Duke/Duchess of Sussex”.

I think changes like Flight Attendant, Mail Carrier, “the Police”, your server, etc. have been common enough usage for long enough that they do not grate on the ear, Safire notwithstanding and do not contort the English language. I think I’ve heard the expression “The Chair” as much as “Chairperson” in modern usage - either works. .

The current head of the Fed is almost exclusively referred to as Chair Powell. The previous head was Chair Yellen.

While the word “person” has no relation to the word “son”, the word “woman” is derived from the compound word “wife man”. In Old English, “wife” meant “woman”, and “man” meant “person”. English word evolution is a mess. :smiley:

So they’re right that there’s the word “man” in “woman”, but they’re wrong that it has a male connotation there.

The parallel construct was “were man”, meaning “man person” in Modern English. (Compare to werewolf.)