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In the book "Geisha", Liza Dalby writes the following about schools for wearing kimonos (for Japanese people):

The text of one school calls for an elderly lady to wear her kimono "with dignity"; a middle aged woman, or "missus," to wear it "composedly"; and a young girl to wear hers "neatly and sprucely".

Presumably, the quotations are not verbatim, but English translations that try to capture the flavour of the original Japanese.

In the book, Dalby apparently writes in American English (based on her use of "center" and "theater"), albeit in a slightly archaic style. For example, she uses "common whore", and "complaisant".

In Australian English, the word "Missus" is used as a slang word in its own right, as opposed to it being just a pronunciation of "Mrs.". For example:

Harry said he couldn't stop and chat because his missus wanted to go shopping.

(By contrast, you can't say "the mister wanted to go to the hardware store" in Australian English)

Is "Missus" used as a word in its own right in American English?

Google NGrams says that the frequency of "Missus" is reasonably similar in American and British English, which would suggest it is not particular to Australia and New Zealand, whereas the second most upvoted entry on Urban Dictionary says that it is Australian and New Zealand English.

  • Interesting that you can't say "the mister" in Australian English. I wouldn't call it a common construct, but I've heard it used to mean, roughly, "the hubby". From a comment on a blog: "I love to junk but don’t do it often because the mister says I have enough junk already." From a 1929 play: "The mister thinks different. He don't seem to be worrying about getting along." – J.R. Jan 24 '14 at 9:33
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    When I briefly lived in Australia I was pleasantly surprised to find how easy it was to move linguistically from Britain, especially from London. 'Missus' is a classic example of such seamlessness. As regards 'mister', it was quite common in the north of England for a working-class wife to refer to her husband as 'the mester' until relatively recently. It may still exist in the North East, but I have not heard it in the Manchester area, where I have spent some time recently. – WS2 Jan 24 '14 at 9:36
  • There's all sorts of questions here, but as to that specific quote 1) 'a missus' is never used in AmE (though it may be nominally grammatical) 2) you didn't have a question about 'composedly' or 'sprucely'? All those adverbs seem like euphemisms for something but I have no idea for what. Also 'complaisant' and 'common whore' are certainly ... special, but they aren't archaic; they are very understandable and contemporary usages. – Mitch Nov 2 '18 at 13:00
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According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, it is

Variant of missis.

According to Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, it is

  • Informal. wife.
  • the mistress of a household.

BTW, in your example it is also not Mrs., but wife.

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, also sees missus as

  1. one's wife or the wife of the person addressed or referred to
  2. an informal term of address for a woman

No one of these dictionaries marks the word as obsolete.

And, Google search sees missus as an equivalent to Mrs.

So, the word IS really used. And it is used widely.

BTW, the mister can do something, too. I have met it in books as sailor's slang.

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AS Gangnus describes in his answer, missus does have independent meaning aside from a pronunciation of Mrs.

Its use in the US has been in decline since the 19th century, as shown in this ngram. A brief review of the recent cited uses include historical references in period novels and other references to historic speech patterns.

There are also regional, ethnic and socio-economic differences in the prevalence of usage.

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I hear it used (in the USA) in the phrase "the missus" as an alternate way of referring to a person's wife.

Some folks will still use it as a title, but of course in that context it would be "Mrs."

  • It's a bit old-fashioned in the US. Sounds very 1950's. – Mitch Nov 2 '18 at 13:05
  • @Mitch - Not sure where I thought I was hearing this term in the US 5 years ago. Today I think I mostly hear it while listening to a London-based podcast. – T.E.D. Nov 2 '18 at 13:22
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I think the answer given is absolutely incorrect.

Is “Missus” used as a word in American English?

When Americans say Mrs., we are saying Mrs. "I left the Mrs. at home." "How is the Mrs?"

When the English or Australians speak, they can mean Mrs. or Missus, or, missus. interject any of the above into that phrase and you would be correct in those countries. Written on paper in America, many English teachers would mark it wrong.

Missus has a special use as well. Years ago if you referred to an unknown unmarried 45 year old woman as "Miss', it would wound her deeply; as it would announce her societal position as an old maid. Being called Missus, allowed her the assumed identity of widowhood without ever lying. Here I am thinking of The South. I'm not sure how that was handled in England, if ever in a position where an introduction was necessary without being .."Sister of....Daughter of...."

I have noticed in older English literature, Missus was spelled without capitalization when referring to a young woman of no rank, not ill repute, just no rank.

At 60, if someone called me Miss, I would feel younger, but believe them crazy.

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