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Madam, or madame //, is a polite form of address for women, often contracted to ma'am //. The abbreviation is "Mme" and the plural is mesdames (abbreviated Mmes). The term was borrowed from the French madame (French pronunciation: [maˈdam]), which means "my lady".
Use as a form of address
In speaking, Madam is used in direct address when the lady's name is not known; for example: May I help you, madam? In the United States, "ma'am" is usually used, except in regions such as New England where particular ties to England still exist. Even then, "madam" tends to only be used when addressing the elderly, with "ma'am" being used for a younger woman. The male equivalent is "sir".
When addressing a letter to the holder of a particular position without knowing the name or gender of the addressee, it is common to write "Dear Sir or Madam,". When writing to a newspaper editor, the correct English usage is to omit the "Dear" and commence simply "Sir," or "Madam," etc.
After addressing her as "Your Majesty" once, it is correct to address the Queen of the United Kingdom as "Ma'am" (depending on the accent of the speaker it is either pronounced to rhyme with "ham", while with lower-class British English it is pronounced to sound like "mum") for the remainder of a conversation.
In 2009 the European Parliament issued guidance on the use of gender-neutral language which discouraged the use of terms which indicate a woman's marital status.
In the UK, the wife of a holder of a non-British hereditary knighthood such as the German, Austrian or German-Belgian Ritter, the Dutch-Belgian Ridder, the French-Belgian Chevalier and the Italian Cavaliere is called Madame. The English male equivalent is Chevalier.
In composed titles
Madam is also used as the equivalent of Mister (Mr) in composed titles, such as Madam Justice, Madam Speaker, Madam President. In the UK, job titles such as President or Prime Minister are not used as titles, as such. By the precedent set by Betty Boothroyd, a female Speaker of the House of Commons is Madam Speaker.
In the Supreme Court of the United States, the Supreme Court of Canada and the superior courts of Australia, rather than adopting the title Madam Justice for female justices, the title Mrs. Justice was replaced simply by Justice. Likewise, female presidents of the Republic of Ireland have preferred to be addressed simply as President in direct address, rather than Madam President, although Mr. President is in use in the U.S. with there being no claims of discrimination, possibly due to the fact that there has not yet been a female President. In the United Kingdom, female judges of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales are titled Mrs. Justice rather than Madam Justice, regardless of marital status; however, female District Judges are referred to as either Madam or Ma'am. Female judges of the High Court of Hong Kong and the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong are, however, titled Madam Justice.
Military and police usage
"Ma'am" is commonly used to address female officers of the rank of Inspector and above in British police forces and female Commissioned Officers and Warrant Officers in the British Armed Forces. In the United States Armed Forces and the Canadian Forces, "ma'am" is used to address female commissioned officers and Warrant Officers.
Usage in non-English speaking societies
In Singapore and Malaysia, some Chinese women retain their maiden name after marriage, and some choose to be addressed in English as "Madam" instead of "Mrs";[verification needed] for example, "Mme. Chiang Kai-shek" was used by Soong May-ling, wife of Chiang Kai-shek
- "How to Address The Queen". Debrett's. Retrieved 12 May 2011.
- "Gender-neutral Language in the European Parliament" (PDF). European Parliament. 2009. Retrieved 24 October 2012.
- "Betty Boothroyd Facts". YourDictionary.
- Nedkov, Louisa (Summer 2002). "A Cultural Guide Singapore". CRA Magazine.
Traditionally, Chinese wives retain their birth name. Marital status is indicated by using Madam or Mrs.