29 October 2015

Why there is an "R" in "Mrs."

The abbreviation "Mrs." stands for the word "missus," which doesn't have an "R" in it.  So what's up?  Mental Floss explains:
Originally, Mrs. was an abbreviation for mistress, the female counterpart of master. There were various spellings for both forms—it might be maistresse/maistre or maystres/mayster—and variation in pronunciation too. The word mistress had a more general meaning of a woman who is in charge of something. A governess in charge of children was a mistress, as was a woman head of a household. The abbreviated form was used most frequently as a title for a married woman.

Eventually, the title form took on a contracted, 'r'-less pronunciation, and by the end of the 18th century “missis” was the most acceptable way to say it. (A 1791 pronouncing dictionary said that to pronounce it "mistress" would “appear quaint and pedantic.”) The full word mistress had by then come to stand for a paramour, someone who was explicitly not a Mrs.

Sometimes a title is not an abbreviation for a word, but a word all of its own.


  1. I remember learning in school for the first time how "missus" was spelt, and being repulsed by it — it looked such an ugly word! Anyway, the article includes some interesting facts.

  2. It's no doubt a dying trend, but I have known some older women in the South who pronounced Mrs. as something like "miz-riz," which I found rather charming.

  3. This is the first I'm hearing of "missus" being thought of as an actual word. Of course Mrs. is an abbreviation for mistress, a much elided word. I suppose next will be the question of why there's no x in etc. since it stands for excedera. What are you kids doing to my language?!

  4. Why is the common abbreviation for Baltimore; "Balto?"


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