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


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?

3 Answers 3


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.

  • 1
    So what does it stand for? Nov 5, 2012 at 16:22
  • I've always pronounced it "Muz".
    – Urbycoz
    Nov 5, 2012 at 16:32
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    @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, 2012 at 11:39
  • Er,yes. So that would be the answer to the actual question asked, then. Nov 6, 2012 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, 2012 at 19:58

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, 2011 at 6:28
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    Oh I like that - "obfuscation by contraction".
    – user8799
    May 19, 2011 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, 2011 at 7:16

According to OED:

Ms. |miz|


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.

  • To my knowledge it was probably spoken for a decade or two (or maybe 10) before the spelling was formalized. When speaking to a woman it's easy to just say "Miz Smith", splitting the difference between "Miss" and "Mrs", and bypass the fact that you don't know their marital status. And if you look at, eg, stories written 50 years ago about the rural/southern US, you will often see "Miz" used in the dialog.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 18, 2014 at 18:06

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