Ask Samantha: why is there an ‘r’ in Mrs?

Why is there an r in the word Mrs?

Ever wondered why there is a letter ‘r’ in the word ‘Mrs?’: Image: Jess and Ben’s Real Wedding

Just wondering, why is there an r in the word ‘Mrs’  since we don’t pronounce the r – and is ‘Mrs’ short for something?

Samantha says:

It’s a funny old language is English. Like the wind, it changes – and often. Take the word terrific as an example. Once it was part of terrify, so, if someone was terribly afraid, it was because the event was terrific. Today if someone reckons an event was terrific they mean awesome.

No, hang on. Awesome once meant filled with awe whereas today it means excellent. So, yes, language does change and rarely by decree from on high. People use language to suit their needs and if the new usage spreads, it spreads. When teenagers choose a new word and social media gets in on the act, look out world, it’s time for a dictionary revision.


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Other words change their meaning in more substantial ways. For example, in the seventeenth century, the word gay referred to a female prostitute but, by the late 1800s and most of the 1900s, a gay person meant someone who was ‘carefree’ and ‘happy’ or ‘bright and showy.’ Today, globally, the word gay has become a synonym with being homosexual.

Why is there an 'r' in Mrs?

A real-life Master and Mistress!

And all of the above brings us to the answer to your question. We know that Mr is short for Mister and that Mrs is short for Missus. But as there is no r in Missus, why have an ‘r’ in the abbreviation?

Once again, we come back to how words change. A married man and woman were once referred to as a master and a mistress.

In writing the words Master and Mistress, the simple shorthand versions became Mr and Mrs.

Easy.

But in time Master became Mister and a mistress came to mean something else: a married man’s girlfriend.

Now, when addressing a married woman in days gone by, you’d say, ‘Hello, Mistress Smith,’ but try addressing a modern-day woman as Mistress Smith and, well, she probably won’t be too chuffed.

So, Mistress morphed into Missus and we then had Mister and Missus. But we kept the old abbreviations of Mr and Mrs and that’s why there’s no ‘I’ in team but there is an ‘r’ in Mrs.

Then, of course, there’s Ms but that’s a whole other story…

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