What are Mr. and Mrs. short for?
History and etiquette tell us that Mister and Missus, known by the contractions Mr. and Mrs., are the proper ways to address men and women. Beneath the surface of these everyday honorifics lies a linguistic glitch though. And, it has created social havoc since “Mrs.” entered mainstream English in the 17th century.
Where did Mister and Missus come from?
Mister is a direct variant of master, which in turn comes from the Old English maegester meaning “one having control or authority.” Once used to address men under the rank of knighthood, by the mid-18th century mister became a common English honorific to generally address males of a higher social rank. English domestic servants often used the title for the eldest member of the household—a practice that is, for the most part, no longer in use today.
Mrs. is a contraction derived from Middle English maistresse, “female teacher, governess.” Once a title of courtesy, mistress fell into disuse around the late 14th century. The pronunciation, however, remained intact. By the 15th century, mistress evolved into a derogatory term for “a kept woman of a married man.”
By the early 17th century, Mr., Mrs. Ms. and Miss became part of English vernacular. In an attempt to avoid the use of mistress (and its nasty connotations), a variety of phonetic substitutes have been utilized, including missus or missis.
When do you use Ms.?
While Mrs. does refer to a married woman, according to The Emily Post Institute, Ms. is the proper way to address a woman regardless of marital status. This term alleviates any guesswork. Miss is often used to address an unmarried woman, presumably a girl under the age of eighteen-years-old. However, Miss also derives from mistress, so may be best to avoid that one in general.
What is Mx.?
Mx. is a new honorific used for transgender people. It is gender neutral.
How do you use these honorifics today?
What is the proper manner to address men and women today though? Well, it isn’t impolite to ask how someone wants to be addressed. Respect can come in the way you address someone as well as in the thought that goes into that address.