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Miss (pronounced //) is an English language honorific traditionally used only for an unmarried woman (not using another title such as "Doctor" or "Dame"). Originating in the 17th century, it is a contraction of mistress, which was used for all women. A period is not used to signify the contraction. Its counterparts are Mrs., usually used only for married women, and Ms., which can be used for married or unmarried women.
The plural Misses may be used, such as in The Misses Doe. The traditional French "Mesdemoiselles" (abbreviation "Mlles") may also be used as the plural in English language conversation or correspondence.
The usage of "Miss" as a title in the United States is most frequently seen when referring to girls under eighteen. Though Miss is less commonly used as a title by unmarried adult women in the United States than in the past, some still prefer to be referred to as such. Twenty-first century etiquette honors an adult woman's personal preference of title. However, if the preference is not known, "Ms." is used. "Ms." is the preferred choice as the female title in business. It is the equivalent to the male title "Mr." as neither is marital status specific.
Miss was formerly the default title for businesswomen, but has largely been replaced by Ms. in this context. It was a default title for actresses (Miss Helen Hayes, Miss Barbara Stanwyck) or other celebrities (Miss Amelia Earhart). Such default usage has also proved problematic; the poet Dorothy Parker was often referred to as Miss Parker, even though Parker was the name of her first husband and she herself preferred Mrs. Parker. Later in the century, the use of "Miss" or "Mrs." became a problem for The New York Times in referring to political candidate Geraldine Ferraro, a married woman who did not use her husband's surname, since Mrs. has been used with a woman's maiden name only in limited circumstances in public life before the 1980s. (See more at Ms.)
"Miss" is the proper form for addressing all young ladies. It is sometimes used for younger adult woman, for example, "May I help you, Miss?" In the United States, "Ma'am" is more common for all adult women regardless of marital status, as "Miss" may be taken as patronizing, and it is presumptive to assume marital status based solely on apparent age.
In some American subcultures, such as the American South and some urban cultures, Miss is sometimes used irrespective of marital status with a woman's first name in direct or indirect informal address, as Miss Ellen from Gone with the Wind or Miss Ellie from Dallas. This form was also used in upper class households in some English-speaking countries by servants to address or refer to the unmarried ladies of the household, and occasionally in family-run businesses in the same manner, though more commonly it was used to address servants if they were addressed by title at all. This is also common with female child-care givers, small children will refer to their preschool teacher or nanny as "Miss" and their first name, regardless of marital status. In some school districts in the United States this custom extends through the early primary school grades.
In some styles of etiquette[which?], the eldest daughter of a family was addressed on paper simply as Miss Doe, with the younger daughters being addressed as Miss Jane Doe and Miss Rebecca Doe. In person, as in when making introductions, the styling would have been extended to unmarried cousins with the same surname.
Another notable use of Miss is as the title of a beauty queen (given that in most pageants it is a requirement that contestants be unmarried), such as Miss America, Miss World, and Miss Universe. Other languages, such as French, Spanish, German and Portuguese, have borrowed the English Miss to refer to the winner of a beauty pageant.
In some Mexican schools (particularly, but not exclusively, in bi-lingual schools) the term Miss and female teacher are used interchangeably, students often address their female teachers simply as Miss.