Writing Style – Ms.

Three times in the past two months, I have had a young person in one of my business writing workshops tell me that the word Ms. means the woman is divorced.

Mind boggling! Gloria Steinem would be spinning in her grave – if she were dead.

Ms (UK) or Ms. (North American) is an English honorific denoting a female. It first became popular in the U.S. in the ‘70s when women began entering the white-collar workforce in greater numbers.

Until that time, a woman was identified as either a Miss or as a Mrs. However, many women felt their marital status had no relevance on their ability to handle a career. And as men were identified by only one word Mr., they wanted the same. As a result, the usage of Ms. grew, and — in this day of equality — it is now the default form of address for formal business correspondence with a woman.

(Ms., like Mrs. and Miss, is a contraction of the word “Mistress” — the feminine form of “Mister” or “Master.”)

Another reason for the popularity of Ms. is due to the increasing number of women who want to keep their own last name after marriage. Neither Missnor Mrs. works.

Although the term is often associated with feminism (and Gloria Steinem, the founder and publisher of Ms magazine), it was actually first suggested in the Bulletin of the American Business Writing Association in 1951.

Note: Having read this, remember the underlying rule: write to your reader. If you know from previous correspondence that a woman prefers Miss or Mrs., then use it. But I guarantee you won’t see it often.