Without context, grouping the letters “MS” can stand for a lot of things. It shows that someone completed a Master of Science degree. It refers to multiple sclerosis, the disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system. The post office uses it as the abbreviation for Mississippi. When you add a period after the letters, it becomes a title for women that does not depend on or indicate their marital status. (You’d never figure out these common acronyms.)
A quick recap on titles: Miss, used to address all the single ladies, stands on its own as a word. The title for married women is actually an abbreviation for a longer word (here’s why we spell Mrs. like that). But “Ms.” is a different story. Despite the period, it’s not an abbreviation for anything. It just evolved as a polite way to address a woman without commenting on whether she was married or not.
Ms. was first proposed as a title in 1901. An article in the Springfield Sunday Republican advocated for the creation a way to address a lady without bringing up her “domestic situation.” According to the article, the word was simple, easy to write, and “the person concerned can translate it properly according to circumstance.” Apparently, people were already saying “mizz,” intentionally slurring of “Miss” and “Mrs.” together, for that very purpose. This was just the written form.
The crazy thing is“Ms.” is a pretty recent addition to the English vocabulary. The phrase wasn’t widely used until the 1980s, thanks to lobbying from feminist activists. Now when you explain the origin of “Ms.” to all your friends, they’ll know why they’re calling you Ms. Smarty-Pants. (Sorry, fellas, you’re stuck with Mr. for everything.)