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In letter writing, there are four different titles to address:

Mr.
Mrs.
Miss.
Ms.

What does Ms. stand for? Apparently as Mrs. and Miss already stand for female titles, Ms. stood for "Master", the title for a boy or a young man, similar to Miss. But the other day, my friend told me it stood for "Miscellaneous" and could be used for anyone. Is this true?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Your friend is wrong on that one. The honorific "Ms." is the general term used when addressing a woman.

In the US it's used to refer to a woman regardless of marital status. Since you would use "Miss" to refer to a (younger) lady who is not married, and "Mrs" to address a lady who is married (regardless of age), "Ms" can be useful as a catch all term to use if you don't wish to cause offence by guessing whether the lady is a "Miss" or a "Mrs".

In the UK, Ms used to be reserved for a woman who had been (but was no longer) married, although now the US and UK meanings seem to have merged.

Also, it's pronounced "Miz" (at least in the UK), so is pronounced slightly differently to "Miss", which is worth knowing.

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So what does it stand for? –  TimLymington Nov 5 '12 at 16:22
    
I've always pronounced it "Muz". –  Urbycoz Nov 5 '12 at 16:32
    
@TimLymington, as far as I know it doesn't actually stand for anything, per se. It was originally derived from the honorifics Miss and Mrs, which themselves are derived from the word Mistress, so I suppose that's the closest match as to what it stands for. –  Andy F Nov 6 '12 at 11:39
    
Er,yes. So that would be the answer to the actual question asked, then. –  TimLymington Nov 6 '12 at 17:25
    
Well, yes and no. The spirit of the original question was that the OP was misinformed about the word's usage, but was put right by the answers received. I think it's clear from their expanded question (not just the title) that they mean "what does it stand for" in the same sense that Mrs stands for a married woman and Miss stands for a single one. –  Andy F Nov 6 '12 at 19:58
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From my understanding (an Australian one), the title is pronounced "Mizz" and is used in essentially a non-committal fashion. Here, it is generally used by single women who don't want to be known as "Miss", or by women in a marriage or de-facto relationship who don't want to be a "Missus".

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It's a kind of levelling of the playing field with respect to men. "Mr." doesn't tell you anything about the marital status of the man concerned, whereas "Mrs" and "Miss" do. Ms is an 'obfuscation by contraction' of "Mrs" and "Miss"... –  Benjol May 19 '11 at 6:28
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Oh I like that - "obfuscation by contraction". –  fortheworld May 19 '11 at 6:52
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That doesn't surprise me, you have an account on Stack Overflow too :) What Andy F adds is also important. Ms is incredibly useful if you don't know the marital status of the lady in question and you wish to avoid causing offence in either direction. –  Benjol May 19 '11 at 7:16
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According to OED:

Ms. |miz|
noun
a title used before the surname or full name of any woman regardless of her 
marital status (a neutral alternative to Mrs. or Miss): Ms. Sarah Brown.
• humorous used before an invented surname to imply that someone has a 
particular characteristic: Ms. Do-Right.
ORIGIN 1950s: combination of Mrs. and miss2.
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protected by RegDwigнt Nov 5 '12 at 11:43

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