Call Me Madame

A word to the wise. If you’re planning to visit to France any time in the near future, be careful not to refer to any young ladies, or old ones for that matter, as Mademoiselle – it’s been banned.

I’m sure that Mademoiselle will be missed (geddit?), but the equivalent of Miss has been deemed sexist by our Gallic neighbours and from now on, all French women will be known as Madame.

The phrase ‘nom de jeune fille‘ – literally ‘name of young daughter‘, or ‘maiden name‘ as we might know it – has also been despatched to history by the prime minister, Francois Fitton, on the grounds that it is archaic and ‘has connotations of virginity’.

The campaign group, Dare Feminism, says that ‘Mademoiselle harks back to the term oiselle which means virgin or simpleton.’ This was news to me as I thought the word originated from the Old French ma damoisele, meaning my noble young woman, but I suppose the French know their own womenfolk best.

According to the group, damoiseau, meaning squire, was the equivalent for men before it fell out of use. Again this was news to me as oiseau is one of the few French words I recall from school. I haven’t looked it up, but logically this must have meant that young lads must have had the title Mondamoiseau, or my ladybird, which probably explains why it was dropped.

Or perhaps the oiseau bit referred to the men hawking. (As in the hunting bird, not spitting on the pavement or peddling clothes pegs from door to door)

Returning to the distaff side (can I still use the word distaff?), it is interesting that the French haven’t come up with a title that is more neutral as we have with Ms. Perhaps they couldn’t think of one. That’s usually the case with the French.

Isn’t it odd how abbreviations can take on such a political connotation? Mrs, Miss and Ms are all abbreviations of mistress, the first two from the early 1600s when they were used interchangeably, rather than denoting marital status. So they mean the same thing etymologically, but not socially.

But the big question is, where will all this leave the song Mademoiselle from Armentières? It just won’t scan if we have use Madame instead.

One last grammatical point, why is it okay not to use a full stop after Mrs, Miss, Ms or Mr for that matter? The answer is that a stop is not needed for any abbreviation that ends with the same letter that the word uses in its uncontracted form.

Is Shooting Parrots educational, or what?

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

8 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 25th February 2012

    “Is Shooting Parrots educational, or what?’

    Mais oui!

    Reply
  • rhymeswithplague 25th February 2012

    I remember reading once that the Académie française was founded to add to the merriment of nations. Membership in that august body (it is to laugh) must be a requirement to becoming prime minister. Francois, old chap, you have earned your stripes!

    Reply
  • Owl Wood 25th February 2012

    I look forward with interest to the next stage of the process when it becomes illegal to discriminate in terms of honorific between women, men and slices of Brie, and we shall all be referred to as “M”.

    Oh mon dieu, it may not be possible to tell if someone if referring to another as an upper-case “M” or a lower-case “m” – perhaps we should ban lower-case letters too?

    I know – let’s all just stop communicating at all, and that way no-one will offend anyone else. Except possibly with silence. Oh bugger – do we ban silence or make it universal? There are so many shades of silence – and some may offend if accompanied by a frown or a tap of the foot. Facial expressions and body-language, we must ban these also, yes, that’s it, that’s the solution – total uncommunicative silence accompanied by zero expression and no body language.

    Gosh – I should be a politician. Are we still called “Politicians”? Some of us prefer the term “social strategists”. Oh gosh – I seem to be disappearing up my own Gallic derriere – gosh, whatever is the new PC term for that thing we sit on?

    Reply
  • Monsieur Pudding 25th February 2012

    Merdre! “Connotations of virginity”…. Heaven forbid that anyone should accuse any French woman of being a virgin and in this I include the occupants of all of France’s many nunneries!

    Reply
  • john 25th February 2012

    I love it when I “pop in” I always learn something!
    x

    Reply
  • Elizabeth 25th February 2012

    Très chèr Monsieur Parrot, tu peux m’appeller comme tu veux. ;-D
    C’etait un formidable post! Pourrais-tu defaire les attaches, s’il te plait? x

    Reply
  • Mr Parrot 26th February 2012

    Elizabeth,
    For the benefit of my readers (and me) I had to visit Google translate with your comment:

    Dear Mr. Parrot, you can call me whatever you want. It was a great post! Can you undo the clips, please?

    I’m not sure if that last bit is quite correct!

    Reply
  • Elizabeth 26th February 2012

    Hmm…something like that. Funny how the mis-translation of one little word makes the whole thing lose a certain je ne sais quoi. As Douglas Adams might have said in such circumstances, “Sois gentil et donne-moi une serviette?” x

    Reply

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