Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

A GROUP of professional women (if you see what I mean) has begun a campaign against the use of the style Ms. Good luck to them; it is a silly word. But they haven't got a chance of abolishing it. You can be certain that by the time such a stand is made against any ugly item of vocabulary it is already too established to eradicate.

This particular piece of ground-elder in the philological garden has a rackety history. It was first used in the early 1950s by mail-order companies and those sending round advertising flyers as a catch-all for women addressees. But by the 1970s it had been taken up by the sisterhood as a weapon in supposed women's lib. If men need not declare whether they were married, why should women?

One problem is that no one knows how to pronounce it. It is surprising how many try to say it as if, in the words of Tom Utley of the Daily Telegraph, they were a bumble-bee sucking a Tune, in other words, with an indeterminate vowel.

Other people more reasonably say me. A complicating factor in its history is that the words me or mizz occur in the writings of O. Henry and others around the turn of the century. …

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