Monday, November 2, 2009

What’s in a Word?

The Uphill Battle of Ms.

“America lacks a language dictator like the Académie Française . . . The closest thing here might be the copydesk of the New York Times. . . . As a handy form of address, Ms. found a foothold in the 1952 guidelines of the National Office Management Association; they suggested using it to avoid any confusion over a woman’s marital state. Twenty years later, when Ms. was born, the editors explained, ‘Ms. is being adopted as a standard form of address by women who want to be recognized as individuals, rather than by their relationship with a man.’ . . .

“Such developments left the New York Times—which that year ran a story headlined, IN SMALL TOWN U.S.A., WOMEN’S LIBERATION IS EITHER A JOKE OR A BORE—in the awkward position of identifying Gloria Steinhem as ‘Miss Steinhem, editor of Ms. magazine.’ At that point, even the late language guru William Safire called for surrender. The Times refused on the grounds that the title had not passed into common usage. ‘We reconsider it from time to time,’ the editors mused, ‘but to our ears it still sounds too contrived for news writing.’ Only in 1986 did the Times relent; the editors at Ms. sent flowers.”

—Nancy Gibbs, TIME columnist in the magazine’s “The State of the American Woman” issue, Oct. 26, 2009 URL

Editor’s Note: Excuse me? The Times, “too contrived”?

1 comment:

  1. I have the first copy of Ms Magazine. It was quite an exciting moment when that magazine was launched.