It has always driven me wild when a married woman signed her name on correspondence as “Ms.”. All my daughter’s female teachers did this, and even my name-badge was printed “Ms.” when I clearly indicated I was a “Mrs.” I had to get this annoyance off my chest, so I naturally turned to Facebook to vent. Little did I know this post regarding the use of the title Miss/Mrs./Ms. would spark such a debate. I had stated, “One more time, from the top: when one does not know the marital status of a female, use ‘Miss’. ‘Ms.’ is for a woman who is no longer married. The ‘Mr.’ is gone. Get it?”
I received an earful from friends and others about this, from “I did not know this. Interesting….” to a lengthy post stating very politely, “I appreciate what you are saying but I disagree. Mrs. does refer to married and Miss can refer to single woman. Any woman, according to 1978 edition of, Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette states that a woman regardless of marital status can elect to use Ms. rather than Mrs. or Miss.”
Because I was now curious when this title evolution took place, a little research was merited. I first stopped by the website www.ecenglish.com, but quickly noticed no one had remarked on it since 2009. Still, the same question was there; when to use Miss/Mrs.//Ms. A few of the comments confirmed my Facebook post thoughts, and a few were more along the lines of Amy Vanderbilt’s rules.
My second stop was an English language learning website, www.eslcafe.com. If you don’t think English is the most difficult language on the planet to learn, what with all of our homonyms and rule-breaking “i before e except for weird” exceptions, please let me know. (Having now taught it for 15 years I couldn’t explain some of these things if my life depended on it.) Author Dan Oliver stated Ms. should be used neutrally like Mr. is for males both married and unmarried.
Ms. is used for three occasions, he continues, those being for a woman in a position of authority, like a teacher; if one does not know the woman’s marital status; or if the woman is the addressee’s age or older. Tell me that isn’t going to get someone in trouble trying to guess!
It is a matter of choice when it comes to a divorced woman still using her ex’s last name. She can still be Mrs. What-Was-I-Thinking? if she wants to be. Mrs. can also be used by widows. My head was starting to spin, and I was born here!
For years I have taught a book in my English classes where a much older woman, a teacher, went by Miss. When the father, talking to the son about the problem with her, addresses her as Mrs., he is corrected by the son stating “It’s Miss.” The father snidely replies, “That figures.” The meaning is clear – no one had ever asked her to get married because she was so nasty.
Since the writing of that book, though, the feminist movement has declared that Ms. can be used for any mature woman’s title. The website www.womeninbusiness.about.com goes into a discussion about the former use of the word mistress when it was still the feminine version of mister and not something tawdry. Definitely one of the English language’s smarter moves. Author Lakle Wolfe concurred that the word has been compressed to Ms. for married or unmarried women.
The only thing that is clear is Miss and Mr. can easily stand on their own if when addressing someone and one does not know his or her last name. For example, “Excuse me, Miss?” “Hey, Mr.?”
So I stand corrected, but I still don’t like it. Fortunately, with our hasty speech these days, the address is likely to come out “Mizz” anyway. Either way, etiquette fans, you’ll be safe.