What Does 'Ms.' Stand For?

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Most titles we use in front of people’s names in English are abbreviations of longer words. Dr. stands for doctor, Mr. for mister, and Mrs. for mistress (though we stopped pronouncing it that way). What does Ms. stand for?

Nothing but itself. The title Ms. was made up, not as a shortening of another word, but as a way to avoid commenting on the marital status of a woman. Traditionally, Miss was the proper term for an unmarried woman, and Mrs. was for a married woman. Ms. did not become generally accepted as a title until well into the 1980s, after years of lobbying for its use by feminist activists.

The origin of the title, however, can be traced all the way back to 1901, when it was proposed in the Springfield Sunday Republican as a way to avoid an embarrassing faux pas when speaking about a woman whose “domestic situation” was unknown. It was noted that the pronunciation mizz, a sort of slurring indeterminacy between miss and missus, was already a common way to avoid making such a social blunder. Ms. put a formal label on what people were already doing, though its acceptance in formal circles took nearly a century.

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Guess the 100-Year-Old Word or Phrase

From Farts to Floozy: These Are the Funniest Words in English, According to Science

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iStock.com/jeangill

Fart. Booty. Tinkle. Weiner. We know these words have the ability to make otherwise mature individuals laugh, but how? And why? Is it their connotations to puerile activities? Is it the sound they make? And if an underlying structure can be found to explain why people find them humorous, can we then objectively determine a word funnier than bunghole?

Chris Westbury, a professor of psychology at the University of Alberta, believes we can. With co-author Geoff Hollis, Westbury recently published a paper ("Wriggly, Squiffy, Lummox, and Boobs: What Makes Some Words Funny?") online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. The two analyzed an existing list of 4997 funny words compiled by the University of Warwick and assessed by 800 survey participants, whittling down the collection to the 200 words the people found funniest. Westbury wanted to see how a word's phonology (sound), spelling, and meaning influenced whether people found it amusing, as well as the effectiveness of incongruity theory—the idea that the more a word subverts expectations, the funnier it gets.

In an email to Mental Floss, Westbury said that a good example of incongruity theory is this video of an orangutan being duped by a magic trick. While he's not responding to a word, clearly he's tickled by the subversion of his own expectations:

With incongruity theory in mind, Westbury was able to generate various equations that attempted to predict whether a person would find a single word amusing. He separated the words into categories—insults, sexual references, party terms, animals, names for body parts, and profanity. Among those examined: gobble, boogie, chum, oink, burp, and turd.

Upchuck topped one chart, followed by bubby and boff, the latter a slang expression for sexual intercourse. Another equation found that slobbering, puking, and fuzz were reliable sources of amusement. Words with the letters j, k, and y also scored highly, and the vowel sound /u/ appeared in 20 percent of words the University of Warwick study deemed funny, like pubes, nude, and boobs.

In the future, Westbury hopes to examine word pairs for their ability to amuse. The smart money is on fart potato to break the top five.

[h/t Live Science]

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