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Mr. and Mrs.

The latest inspirational column from Rev. Dr. John Kreutzwieser
Word Wisdom

I seem to receive at least one letter a week in the mailbox addressed to Mr. Kreutzwieser. Mr. is a short form for mister. Occasionally, correspondence is addressed to Mrs. Kreutzwieser, and I presume it is intended for my wife, Patricia. Both Mr. and Mrs. are honorifics.

An honorific is a title preceding a name indicating or conveying honour. In 15th century England the title mister implied the head of a household. The feminine version of mister was madame. Honorifics include Dr., Colonel, and Captain, among others.

Dr. Scholl’s is a company that makes all kinds of shoes and foot care products. The honorific implies superior standing and quality. In the 1960’s Dr. William Scholl (graduated in 1922 from Chicago Medical School) invented an open shoe with wooden soles and leather straps, sold mostly in medical stores.  Today the business is a footwear and orthopedic foot care brand.

Colonel Sanders is a name associated with the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant chain.    Harland David Sanders was commissioned as a Colonel in 1935 by Kentucky governor Ruby Laffoon for his unique food business. In Kentucky, a Colonel is an honorific for noteworthy accomplishments, contributions to civil society, remarkable deeds, or outstanding service to the community or state. Sanders was providing chicken dishes to travelers between Cumberland Falls and the Great Smokies in his Shell Service Station. In the 1950’s Colonel Sanders began to dress the part, growing a goatee and wearing a black (later switching to a white) suit with a string tie. In 1964 Sanders became a salaried brand ambassador for KFC.

In 1944 the Seagram Company started manufacturing the Captain Morgan brand of rum.  It is named after the 17th century Caribbean privateer Sir Henry Morgan. The honorific implies superiority and value.

Mr. (mister) is used as a title of courtesy before a man's surname. Mrs. (missus or missis) was initially a short form for mistress, thus the inclusion of the ‘r’ in the title. Mistress originally implied a woman of authority and power, married or unmarried. She was appointed the head mistress of the school. It was not until the 17th century that the distinction developed between honorifics for married (Mrs.) and unmarried women (Miss).

In the 1400s mistress also was used to indicate a sweetheart, a romantic term for a woman deeply loved by a man. However, in the 1600s mistress started to refer to a woman having an extramarital sexual relationship with financial support from her lover. So, the connection between Mrs. and mistress began to unravel but the ‘r’ stayed in the honorific.

The plural of Mr. is Messrs. The reason for this strange change is that to add an ‘s’ to Mr. would not distinguish it from Mrs. So, the plural is a short form of the French messieurs.

The plural of Mrs. is Mmes. It is the short form of the French mesdames.

Miss is most often used to indicate an unmarried woman or girl. It is pluralized as Misses.

Ms. is often used for a woman of whom the marital state is unknown or is private information. Its plural form is either Mss. or Mses.

Now that there are non-binary and trans people, plus many other self-identifying terms, honorifics might go the way of the dodo bird. But for now, many forms and various pieces of mail still use the terms Mr. and Mrs.


John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to [email protected]. Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.