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Ever Wondered Why There’s an 'R' in 'Mrs'?

Reader's Digest logo Reader's Digest 2/25/2017 Claire Nowak
© Tatiana Ayazo/Rd.com, istock

Spelling in the English language can be tricky, downright hilarious, or just plain confusing. Case in point: Why does the abbreviation 'Mrs.' have an 'R' when the full word 'missus' is R-less?

That’s because Mrs. wasn’t always the abbreviation for missus. Centuries ago, it stood for mistress, which at the time meant the woman of the household. A governess who looked after children was also called a mistress. Eventually, the abbreviation became the title for married women, while men used Mr., pronounced master.

Since English speakers have a tendency to shorten words by means of contractions, the moniker was pronounced missus at the end of the 18th century. It was probably for the best, since 'mistress' was given a new definition, the one we know today involving extramarital romantic affairs. Confusing the two could land you in seriously awkward trouble.

The grammar changed for the gents, too. The pronunciation of Mr. eventually went from master to mister, but the whole title was rarely written out. Mister was already a word that referred to an occupation or trade.

Long story short: The English language is confusing. At least some grammar rules don’t require lessons; we just do them without even noticing.

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