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Miriam
Ma'am, mam, mom and mum
Honestly, I find it weird, when other users call me "ma'am" here on italki. It makes me feel old and I don't think it's appropriate for this platform. When I read messages by others, I read "ma'am" as /mæm/ but I just started watching the British TV series "Bodyguard" and there the bodyguard calls the politician he protects "ma'am" and he pronounces it /mɑːm/ which is really close the American pronunciation of "mom" /mɑm/. So I looked it up on Wiktionary: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/ma%27am.

Now I understand why I find it weird because I mainly learnt British English at school and according to the Wiktionary entry, "ma'am" is rarely use in the UK apart from two circumstances.

  • ...it is prescribed when addressing the queen more than once: after first addressing her as Your Majesty, one uses ma'am.
  • The term is also sometimes still used in the armed forces and security services when addressing female superiors.

So, it makes sense that the Bodyguard uses "ma'am". even if it's not a commonly used word. In the US though, the word "ma'am" can be used for addressing following people:

  • a female stranger presumed old enough to have children, particularly if older than the speaker,
  • a female customer one is serving,
  • one's mother,
  • a female teacher or school official in a school which emphasizes formality, or
  • a female superior in the military.
  • And it can be a form of respect for a woman regardless of age or position

As it can also be used to address one's mother, I wondered why there are so many ways to address one's mother with a short form of "mother/mama": mam, mom and mum. Once a native English speaker found it even amusing that I wrote "mom" instead "mum". Honestly, I've never given it a real thought, which word I should use depending on where the person I'm exchanging messages with, comes from. And I'm using a wild mix of all kinds of English variants anyway. So, I'm asking you now.

  1. Do you use the word "ma'am" and who do you address like this?
  2. How do you call your mother? Ma'am, mam, mom or mum? Ma, mama, mami, mamma, momma, mammy, mommy or mummy?

Please always state, where you're from and if you use the mentioned words in your standard variant of English or your dialect.
May 21, 2020 1:41 PM
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Comments · 26
I went to an international British school and also lived in Canada. I don’t use “ma’am” at all. In school, we called our teachers “sir” or “miss”, but never “ma’am”.

I address my mom in Arabic, so I guess that’s not relevant.

I’ll also add that I don’t like being addressed as “sir”. I find it too hierarchical, and I don’t like feeling above anyone.
May 21, 2020
The word ma’am doesn’t bother me at all. As a non native English speaker I only associate it with respect. I’m an old-fashioned person, so maybe that’s why 😁

Last time I was called ma’am was by a native English speaker from (Indiana-US) who happens to be a teacher here. I’m not old but not young either, I’m almost 44 so I’m not sure if ma’am was used in my case because I appeared to be old 😅 I just felt it was used out of respect.

I had no idea that a mother could be called ma’am. I only considered it as an abbreviation for madam and used it formally in my cover letters as in (Dear Sir/ Madam)

I call Mom in Arabic in one of these forms:
  1. Mama ماما: it’s associated more with people from the city.
  2. Yammah يمّه: used more by people from small towns like myself.
  3. Ummi أمي: which is MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) and more dear to my heart ♥️
May 21, 2020
I'm from the UK. I've never addressed anyone as ma'am except for giggles.

My mum is called mum. I spell it with a 'u', which is consistent with my pronunciation of many other words with a 'u': I say mum the way I say but and up and cup and duck and bum.

I called her mummy when I was very little, but I would rarely do so as an adult, and I definitely would have avoided it as an insecure 'grown-up' teenager. Sometimes I call her mother when I'm talking about her, but I don't generally address her as such.
May 21, 2020
As someone from the southern Appalachians, I called all of my teachers (and even my university professors) "ma'am", and I reflexively use it for any woman who is older than I am. When I worked in retail, I used it for all of my female customers, even and especially young girls.

Most southerners think of "Mom" as their mom's NAME--we would never dream of calling our parents by their first names. We also use "mom" as her POSITION.
"Yes, Jane, I will do that"-->"Yes, Mom, I will do that."
"Bob, have you met my boss, Sally?"--> "Bob, have you met my mom, Sally?"
We would call our mothers ma'am if we were consenting to a command.
"Chris, remember to take out the garbage."
"Ok, Mom. In a second."
"Now, Chris!!"
"Yes ma'am."
May 22, 2020
1. (i) No, I don't address anyone as ma'am. I've never met the Queen and or spoken to a senior female officer in the armed forces or security services, so I have never had occasion to call anyone ma'am.

(ii) There's one other form of address which is important to bring in here: it's madam. In the UK, it is 'madam' - not 'ma'am' - which is female equivalent of the civilian use of 'sir'. 'Madam' is the equivalent of the American 'ma'am' , the French 'madame', the Spanish 'señora' and so on, but it is rarely used.
Go into almost any bank, shop or restaurant in the UK, and you won't be addressed as anything (apart from 'love', maybe). We in Britain are more informal than much of Europe and North America, and these polite terms of address don't come naturally to us any more. The only people who'd call you 'madam' are, perhaps, hotel reception staff and airline cabin crew who are obliged to do so. You get the impression that these employees are saying this between gritted teeth and probably hate having to say 'madam' and 'sir'. A police officer will often only start to call someone 'sir' as a forced politeness when the conversation starts to get unpleasant.

2. I live in southern England, where 'mum' is standard. This is not universal in the British Isles, however. In the Midlands, people say and write 'mom' ( like in the US), while you might come across 'mam' in parts of northern England, Scotland and Ireland.
May 21, 2020
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Miriam
Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), French, German
Learning Language
Chinese (Mandarin)