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This Is Where the 'R' in 'Mrs.' Comes From

Get ready for a little vocab lesson.
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Weddings are all about tradition. There's the obvious tradition of a bride wearing white (and guests wisely not wearing white), the slightly more complex set of rules about wedding invitations, and then the traditional wedding faux pas we all strive to avoid. But what about the bride's traditional title change from Miss to Mrs.—where does that "r" even come from? And why is Mrs. pronounced "misses"?

Enter: The good people at Mental Floss, who recently uncovered the backstory. Mrs. was originally an abbreviation for "mistress," which at the time was the female counterpart of "master" and described a woman who was in charge, like a woman who was the head of a household. Additionally, Oxford Dictionaries states that "Mistress" was the prefix attached to a married woman's name back in the 15th century.

But over time, the pronunciation of the word changed: Mistress was soon contracted and pronounced without the "r." By the 18th century, this new pronunciation, "missis," had become a word all on its own—and distinct from the word "mistress" altogether. "Mistress" then came to mean something altogether different—the lover of a married man. The word pronounced "missis" or "missus" took over as a general term for women and the counterpart to "mister."

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The saga gets even more complicated. By the late 18th century, the title "Miss" evolved to indicate an unmarried woman of high social status and "Mrs." came to imply a married woman, according to Britannica.

To further complicate matters, there's the lingering difference between the spelling and pronunciation of Mrs. Mental Floss points out that it's simply because writing "missis" or "missus" was too casual since the pronunciation was taken from lower class dialect. So, in order to match the male equivalent Mr. in formality and style, it was written Mrs.

Later on, in the 20th century, the term Ms. was born to refer to married and unmarried women alike, regardless of age. The New York Times referred to Ms. as a "tactfully ambiguous compromise between Miss and Mrs." In the 1970s, the feminist movement helped transform Ms. into the term we commonly use today, Good Housekeeping reports.

What moniker is next in the dizzying roulette of Mrs., Miss., and Ms.? Only time will tell.

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This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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