Sheenglishing heenglish; English and women titles (part two)

‘Madam’ is also used as a salutation for ‘woman’ in official letters.

You gracefully say for example ‘welcome, madam.  (

Similarly, the counterpart or the feminine version of ‘sir’ is ‘Madam.’ The word was gotten from the French mid-16th century word ‘Madame’ which is a title used to address a respectable, married French woman.

‘Madam’ is the title for a woman of high status, elegance, royalty, culture, style etc. ‘Madam’ is a word that comes before the title of a woman’s social or political office. E.g. Madam Senator. Madam President.

‘Madam’ is also used as a salutation for ‘woman’ in official letters. The phoneme [d] at the centre of ‘madam’ could be replaced with an apostrophe: ma’am. It still means the same. People erroneously believe that since it is acceptable to salute a man in an official letter with ‘Dear Sir,’ it is also ok to write ‘Dear Ma,’ while addressing an official letter to a woman.

‘Madam’ is a very formal word with which you address a woman of honour. It is inelegant and unsuitable to address your mother at home as ‘Madam.’ That is not to say that you cannot playfully get ‘formal’ with your mother at home. You do that when you are getting at something.

Whenever you want to address a woman who is not your mother and you intend doing this with a touch of respect, you gracefully say for example ‘welcome, madam.’ If the woman were your mother/guardian or someone you consider your mother, you may say ‘welcome, ma.’

The relationship and setting determine whether you use either of the two. Formal relationship and setting attract ‘Madam,’ while informal relationship and setting attract ‘Ma.’ Why?

‘Ma’ is the early 19th century word for ‘Mother.’ E.g. My ma believes so much in me.’ ‘Ma’ is the informal old fashioned shortened form of the word ‘mama.’ ‘Ma’ is a title for an old woman. E.g. Ma Abosede was a good woman.

Other words that share the meaning and informality of ‘Ma’ include: mam, mama, mummy, mum, mommy, nana, momma, and mom. Pa is the masculine version of ma. It means ‘Father.’ E.g. My old pa likes little children. Pa James.

The simplest plural form of ‘Madam’ is ‘Madams.’ It has other plurals such as ‘mesdames’ or ‘ladies.’ So you can say ‘welcome, gentle ladies,’ when you address a gathering of women. You may also say ‘Good evening, mesdames.’ The problem with ‘mesdames’ is that even native speakers of English consider it strange and foreign.

‘Ladies’ used as the plural of ‘Madam’ also falls in the category of nouns that adopt irregular pluralisation. ‘Ladies’ itself has its singular form as ‘Lady.’ What is accentuated is not the formation of familiar proper plurals but a creation of appropriate meaning in a given context. That is why people say ‘Hello, ladies and gentlemen.’ It could as well be ‘Hello, Madams and Sirs,’ or ‘Hello Mesdames.’  How does that feel in your mouth?

Written by Omidire Idowu.

Omidire Idowu Joshua is a committed pedagogue, editor, and proofreader. You may reach him via or on twitter through @IAMEagleHeart.

Sheenglishing heenglish; English and women titles (part two) Sheenglishing heenglish; English and women titles (part two) Reviewed by Unknown on November 10, 2017 Rating: 5

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