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Friday, July 20, 2007

Ms appropriation

By Dr Syntax
While the pops reckon that their readers will readily understand who is being written about by simply referring to ‘Kate’, the heavies insist on describing Kate Middleton, Prince William’s beleaguered on/off girlfriend, as Ms Middleton.
Is that because she has expressed a preference? Is she, perchance, an active feminist? Or is it because we are unsure about her marital status? I suspect the answer to all those questions is No. So what’s wrong with that good, plain English, word Miss?
I asked Sally Baker (Mrs), who is the prodnose on The Times and writes its weekly Feedback column. She said she suspects that what I suspect is correct; what’s more likely, she says, is that Ms has ‘undergone some linguistic mission creep’:
‘When it arrived on these shores, Ms was treated as an awkward Americanism and was cautiously reserved for women of unknown marital status. Now, however, we Brits have overcome our initial distaste for it and clasped it to our bosom, to the extent that it is fast becoming the appellation of first choice for all women. A pity.’
I have always tried to avoid arguing with subs but I find it hard to believe that the Brits have clasped Ms to their bosom, or that ‘all women’ are fast switching to its use.
You rarely hear the word used in conversation, by speakers of either sex, other than with an implied sneer (Muz Germaine Greer).
I further suspect that it is rather the ‘appellation of first choice’ for idle reporters who forgot to ask, or don’t know how to find out. Some newspapers now refer on second reference to all females, from teenage girls to grannies, as Ms. If I were a granny, I’d sue.
However, an old friend and QC (a lady of a leftish leaning) was in the Old Bailey fairly recently when the judge interrupted the prosecution and said he found it irritating to hear him constantly referring to the opposition as Ms. He suggested that defence counsel might be so kind as to enlighten the court as to her actual marital status.
She replied: ‘Widow, m’lud.’
The judge said: ‘Then please forgive my impertinence in enquiring, Ms.’