Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Amazing History of "Ms."

The title "Ms." was suggested in 1901 in a short article in The Sunday Republican of Springfield, Massachusetts.

Thank you to NYT Magazine's Ben Zimmer, who searched out the amazing history of "Ms." and reported it in his column, "On Language" (Oct. 25, 2009).

"There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill," the anonymous writer began.

The proposal got some attention in 1901 and the term popped up in 1932 and was mentioned in 1949 in The Story of Language by Mario Pei, who attributed it to feminists.

"Simple etiquette and expediency" was the goal of the original writer in 1901, notes Zimmer.

The term was recommended in Practicial Business Writing (Fraily and Schnell, 1952) and Business Executive's Handbook (Doris, 1954).

Sheila Michaels, a civil rights activist, found it in 1961 and campaigned for it, but it wasn't until the feminist movement got started that she was able to get publicity and interest in the term.

Hooray for Anonymous, Mario Pei, Fraily and Schnell, Doris, Sheila Michaels, and Gloria Steinem!

They gave me "Ms.", Ben Zimmer gave me this amazing history, and my spouse left the October 25 NYT Magazine on the dining room table last night.

Note: German and other languages are making changes like this as well.

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