Close this search box.

A Woman by any other Address: Ben Zimmer and The Origin of Ms.

Ben Zimmer’s discovery last week of the first usage of the term Ms. in America sparked my interest. Zimmer found the term on November 10, 1901, in Springfield (Mass.) Sunday Republican under the heading Men, Women and Affairs. In the article, the writer attempts to fill “a void in the English language” by suggesting the now common term Ms. as “a comprehensive term which does homage to the sex without expressing any views as to their domestic situation.”

All discussion of antedating aside (which, I might add, I find incredibly fascinating — who knew that finding the origin of a word was a competitive sport?!), Zimmer’s discovery led me to question the very necessity of the term Ms. and to wonder if any languages other than English have faced or do face the quandary related by the Springfield Sunday Republican writer.

Although we now know that the term was used as early as 1901, Ms. was not commonly used until the 1970s when it was firmly established as the neutral female complement to Mr. With the rise of feminism and women’s rights, it only seemed natural for women to define themselves by their status as a woman and not by their status as an unmarried (Miss) or a married (Mrs.) woman. In fact, the first issue of Ms. magazine clarified its name by stating that the term Ms. “is being adopted as a standard form of address by women who want to be recognized as individuals, rather than being identified by their relationship with a man.”

Whether or not the term is actually neutral can be debated, but what I found most interesting is its existence in the English language. After some cursory research, I cannot find any term equivalent to Ms. in another language. It seems that no other culture finds it necessary to allow for a socially neutral female address, which, of course, makes me wonder why this country spent so much time and energy establishing a debatably neutral term (many argue that Ms. still associates a woman with her marital status and is often interpreted as the address of an unmarried woman).

I’ve listed below the female addresses in Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, Filipino, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

In German and French it appears that Frau and Madame are actually equivalent to both Mrs. or Ms. in English, but again, there is not a separate socially neutral female address.

If I’m absolutely wrong about my conclusion that there is no equivalency for any other languages, please let me know!

Arabic: آنسة (Miss); ﺳﻴﺪۃ (Mrs.)

Chinese: 小姐 (Miss); 夫人 (Mrs.)

Dutch: Mejuffrouw (Miss); Mevrouw (Mrs.)

Filipino: Binibini (Miss); Ginang (Mrs.)

French: Mademoiselle (Miss); Madame (Ms./Mrs.)

German: Fraulein (Miss); Frau(Ms./Mrs.)

Hindi: सुश्री or कुमारी (Miss); श्रीमती (Mrs.)

Italian: Signorina (Miss); Signora (Mrs.)

Japanese: お嬢さん (おじょうさん) (Miss); 女史 (じょし) (Mrs.)

Korean: 숙녀 (Miss); 부인 (Mrs.)

Russian: Девушка (Miss); Госпожа (Mrs.)

Spanish: Señorita (Miss); Señora (Mrs.)

Vietnamese: quý cô (Miss); Bà   (Mrs.)

Other Resources

The Role of Certified Translators in Medical Document Translation Accuracy

Certified medical translators play a critical role in ensuring accuracy when translating medical documents between languages. Inaccuracies can have serious consequences for patient care and outcomes. Certified translators have extensive medical knowledge and adhere to strict quality standards to produce...

Learn More

November is Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month has officially been celebrated in the United States each November since 1990. This is recognized on the federal, state, and local levels with special programming and events to highlight and honor the traditions, culture, history, and...

Learn More

Bilingual Pay Differential Benefits

In today’s globalized world, the ability to speak multiple languages has become increasingly valuable. Businesses and organizations of all kinds are expanding their operations internationally, often partnering with companies abroad or marketing products and services in overseas markets. Additionally, in...

Learn More

Contact Us

Get Started Today

Interested in our language services? Complete the form or call us during business hours (9 AM to 6:00 PM ET) at 800.895.8210.

Preparing for your test?

View our test prep materials or FAQ’s for common questions about taking a test.