Somewhat in the manner of the Academie Francaise, which determines those words deemed properly French, The New York Times yesterday announced it would start using the term "Ms." because it has finally "passed sufficiently into the language to be accepted as common usage."
For Executive Editor A.M. Rosenthal, announcement of the change brought a flood of congratulations from many members of his staff and a bouquet of flowers from the editors of Ms Magazine.
Gloria Steinem, who picketed The Times 12 years ago for referring to her as "Miss Steinem, editor of Ms Magazine," also made a trip yesterday to congratulate him on adding Ms. to the courtesy titles of "Mr.," "Miss" and "Mrs.," which The Times uses before subsequent references to a person.
"If I'd known I'd get so many flowers and kisses, I'd have done it a year ago," said Rosenthal, laughing.
He said The Times resisted the change for years because "it was not really part of the language and I resisted being used linguistically and politically.
"We resisted perhaps a little too long," Rosenthal added.
Most other publications have long since either dropped "honorifics," as these titles are called, or let the woman determine which title she would prefer -- "Miss," "Mrs." or "Ms."
United Press International has a sweeping rule banning courtesy titles except in direct quotations or when referring to husband and wife. Reporters for the Associated Press must ask women whether they prefer "Mrs.," "Miss," "Ms." or no title at all.
At The Washington Post, honorifics are not used except in obituaries and on the editorial page, and then only "Mr.," "Miss" and "Mrs." are permitted; The Post's stylebook rules: "Do not use the term Ms. except in direct quotations, in discussing the term itself or for special effect."
Earlier this century, "Ms." was a term deemed correct in most secretarial books for addressing a woman whose marital status was unknown. In the 1970s it became a term for many feminists who preferred "Ms." or nothing before their names. Now the term is frequently preferred by professional women who keep their original names after marriage.
"Jubilant is the word for the way people feel around here," said Nan Robertson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Times reporter who had pushed for the change for years. "Everybody feels it should have happened a long time ago, but that's The Times. It has a sort of glacial way of moving . . . It may have been late in coming, but it's here."
In his notice to the staff -- which is expected to be reprinted in the paper today -- Rosenthal said:
"The Times believes now that 'Ms.' has become a part of the language and is changing its policy. The Times will continue to use 'Miss' or 'Mrs.' when it knows the marital status of a woman in the news unless she prefers 'Ms.'
" 'Ms.' will also be used when a woman's marital status is not known or when a married woman wishes to use her maiden name," the note to the Times staff said.
Judith Hope, town supervisor for East Hampton, N.Y., said she believes Rosenthal started making the decision last summer after a party in the Hamptons when she sat on one side of him and Steinem on the other.
"We really went to work on him," said Hope. Rosenthal said that every few years, editors had looked at the issue of whether to add Ms. to their list of honorifics, which the paper uses for all adults except for men in sports stories. Singer Bo Diddley, for example, is referred to on second reference as "Mr. Diddley."
After a recent stockholders meeting someone asked Times Publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger about using Ms., and Sulzberger asked Rosenthal to take another look at the question. Most editors agreed the time had come to accept the third title for females, Rosenthal said.
Still, traditions die hard. Ms Magazine Senior Editor Joanne Edgar said yesterday that she had just received a bill for a classified advertisement her magazine had placed in The Times recently. The bill was addressed to "Mrs. Magazine."
For collectors of news memorabilia, the Tuesday edition of the New York Post is a keeper. On the front page, the screamer headline says "Khadafy Goes Daffy," and the smaller headline elaborates that "He's turned into a transvestite druggie." Under that, in a picture that unfortunately seems altogether too related, is Cardinal John O'Connor in his white robes walking through West Beirut trying to get 22 hostages released.
The story on the Libyan leader, which purportedly quotes U.S. intelligence sources, is featured on Page 4. It says the "Bedouin Bomber" has been using mind-altering drugs and dressing in women's clothing.
Attached is a picture of Gadhafi that has eye liner, lipstick and earrings painted on -- graffiti fashion -- to show what Gadhafi "might look like" in drag.
In fact, presidential spokesman Larry Speakes used the edition at Tuesday's White House briefing, pointing out the photo and chiding a New York Daily News reporter for not having it.
Speakes did not make such a fuss over the next day's New York Post. There, featured on Page 1 with the changes proposed for the Supreme Court, was a picture of President Reagan's new nominee, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Antonin Scalia.
He was dressed as Macbeth for a high school play, more than 30 years ago.