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Ask-A-Linguist Message Details
|Subject:||'mum' in British English|
|Question:||Hello, I am a native American English speaker. I know the word ''mum'' is used in British English as a familiar reference for mother; it is even used to refer to the queen mother. but in watching hours of British television I noticed that ''mum'' is also used to refer to female figures of authority/rank. How did it become acceptable for typical citizens to refer to the queen mother as ''mum'', and is that related to its use with any female in a position of authority? If unrelated, why is ''mum'' used for any female authority figure? Thank You.|
|Reply:||They used to refer to Queen Elizabeth's mother as the "queen mum" I think you may actually confusing two phonologically similar (to American ears) words: "mum" equivalent to "mom" in American English and "ma'am" pronounced with an "ah" instead of an "æ" sound. The two vowels are slightly different, the latter being a bit longer than the former. (I'm not a native speaker of British English, but watch lots of British period dramas ;-) )|
|Reply From:||Susan D Fischer click here to access email|