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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: "Mum" or "mummy" are the normal ways for an Englishman to address his mother, filling the role which (to judge from American novels) is filled in the USA by "mom", a word we don't use. Since it is equivalent to formal "mother", it was inevitable that the late "Queen Mother" was affectionately referred to as "Queen Mum".

Using "mum" for female authority figures in general is a different matter, I think, not connected to the "Queen Mum" usage (she in any case was never an authority figure in her own right, she was Queen by virtue of being married to our past King). I think the usage you have in mind in this case is where people use "Mum" as equivalent to "Madam", that is as a way of showing respect to a woman customer or the like, the feminine equivalent to "Sir". This does happen (in English usage), but it is regarded as a lower-class habit; for an obviously middle-class person to use it would sound laughable. "Mum" for mother, on the other hand, is standard among middle-class people.

Geoffrey Sampson
Reply From: Geoffrey Richard Sampson      click here to access email
Date: 17-Sep-2013
Other Replies:
  1. Re: 'mum' in British English    Susan D Fischer     (09-Sep-2013)
  2. Re: 'mum' in British English    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (10-Sep-2013)
  3. Re: 'mum' in British English    Steven Schaufele     (11-Sep-2013)

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