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Ms. Matters: How a feminist language innovator radically changed how we refer to each other

Ms. Sheila Michaels died last month at the age of 78.Is the two-letter honorific she helped to popularize in the 1970s — a decade of feminist ferment — soon to follow?Quite possibly — as are Miss and Mrs., the “sexist” honorifics that Ms. was meant to replace.Oh, and Mr., you’re likely on your way out, too.Use of the common honorifics has declined over recent decades as issues of gender equality and identity have risen, says Sali Tagliamonte, a University of Toronto linguist.Article Continued BelowAnd the abbreviations are likely to further fade from the page and spoken conversations.“Language is like that, if people start insisting on there not being these gendered words (the words fall out of favour),” says Tagliamonte, Canada Research Chair in language variation and change at the school.“The developments across the 20th century have been moving more and more strongly towards these kinds of changes … and the honorifics are just part of this broad-scale, sweeping set of changes in language.”

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