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It's rare that you see the honorific for a married woman — "missus" — written out like that. But as soon as you do, you think two things: 1) Gosh, that word looks so dowdy and old-fashioned. And, 2) Where the heck does the "r" in the abbreviation "Mrs." come from?
Mental Floss (opens in new tab) recently pondered the same thing, and did a little digging through history to unearth the origin of this puzzler. The explanation dates back to the 18th century, when "master" and "mistress" were the appropriate proper monikers for men and women, respectively.
But by the end of the century — because language is a fascinatingly fluid element of our everyday lives — people started say the word "mistress" in a way that removed the "r" sound. The pronunciation "missis" took over as the general term for women, and "mistress" was reserved for women who were in charge of something — like a governess, who watched a family's children (and somewhere along the way, "mistress" morphed into the more scandalous meaning we give it today).
"Missus" also eventually became the term servants or working class folks might address their employer — a casual approximation of the word, which is why people never wrote it out when they really wanted to use the more formal "Mrs." And today, we still don't.
If you're curious, it wasn't until the early 1900s that the idea of "Ms." appeared on the scene, according to the New York Times (opens in new tab). A note in a newspaper (opens in new tab) was the earliest appeal from progressive-minded women for a moniker that didn't have to denote whether they were married or not. Then, the feminist movement in the 1970s lifted "Ms." to the more common usage today.
But what we really want to know is, what's next? "Mrz."? "Mrss."? But only time will reveal what the next generation's crazy language shape-shifting will be.
[via Mental Floss (opens in new tab)
Overseeing all things home for GoodHousekeeping.com and HouseBeautiful.com, Lauren swoons over midcentury design and employs tough-love approach to decluttering (just throw it away, ladies). She loves anything neon coral, puts bacon on her veggie burgers, and would follow Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to the end of the earth.
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