A while back I needed to talk to a person at work – it is sometimes unavoidable and is one of the dangers of the job. To get her attention (since I was walking up behind her), I said, “Mrs. Lastname?” She turned and gave me a semi-withering glare and said, “Ms. Lastname.” I apologized and went on and things were fine.
Confusion reigns. I grew up somehow associating “Ms.” with a “Miss” who didn’t want to be referred to as “Miss” for whatever reason. Though it might seem odd to you, in my 33.58 years alive this is the first “Mrs.” that I’ve ever run into that preferred “Ms.”
To further the confusion, somewhere else along the way I’d been given to understand that any woman who wanted to be called “Ms.” was a man-hating feminist who would break out placards and protest the system should anyone happen to refer to her as “Miss.” I don’t know where that came from, I just know it’s there.
I understand “Miss.” I understand “Missus.” I don’t understand “Ms.” I don’t think it’s short for anything, and it’s hard to say with drawing out the end of it, at least for me. I’m trying to make it sound natural, but it always comes out as “Mizzzzzzzz.”
I mentioned my confusion to my friend Matt and he looked at me like I was from some other planet. He writes news releases and articles, so he’s a bit more up on these kinds of things, and he explained to me that “Ms.” is a gender (female)-specific term without being a marital-status-specific term. He compared it to “Mr.” for men, since men can be “Mr.” whether or not they are married.
So there you have it. Now you know as much as I do on the subject.
Also, as an addendum, using “ma’am” is bad, too. I grew up saying “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am,” so it just turned into a standard politeness thing. From what I can gather, saying “ma’am” to a woman makes her think you think she is old. In fact, a waitress the other day, in response to my “Ma’am?” to get her attention said this: “I’ve heard that when people call you ‘ma’am,’ it means you’re no longer hot.”
And you wonder why I try to not interact with people? It’s mostly because I apparently don’t know how anymore.