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In Sunday's post "Ask Language Log: Prosodic hyphens and italics", I noted  that one of the features that Grant Allen's 1899 novel identifies as typically American — or at least typical of the one American who is caricatured in chapter 3 — is the socially inappropriate use of "miss" as a term of address:

'Good morning, miss,' he began–he called me 'Miss' every time he addressed me, as though he took me for a barmaid.

At first I found this as weird as the observation about the same American individual that "Like all his countrymen, he laid most stress on unaccented syllables."

But a little research and introspection have supported some aspects of Grant Allen's sociolinguistic intuitions, while leaving some other questions open.

In particular, the part about "as though he took me for a barmaid" is in keeping with the OED's gloss for sense 3.a. of "miss" (n.2):

A form of address to a (usually young) woman, esp. a shop assistant, waitress, etc. Now rare.

The OED's most recent examples are

1901 ‘Rita’ Jilt's Jrnl. i. ii. 15 He..said, ‘A pleasure, miss, I assure you’… ‘Miss’, I repeated… ‘Fancy calling me—“miss”. But then he isn't a gentleman.’
1965 J. B. Priestley Lost Empires i. ii. 15 Let's have a coffee, shall we? Miss! Miss!

Thinking about my own usage, my impression is that "sir", "ma'am", and "miss" as terms of address are generally indications of a certain kind of social distance. I might say "Thank you, sir" or "Thank you, ma'am" to a grocery store cashier or a cab driver handing me a receipt, but not to a colleague or a student handing me a paper, or even to a stranger holding the doors of an elevator. (Though instrospection about such things is always suspect.)

The context of the 1901 OED quote, from "A Jilt's Journal: A Novel, by 'Rita'", makes it clear that understanding about how and when to deploy such terms was a social-class shibboleth in Britain at the time.

In fact the novel seems to be mostly about behavioral markers of class identity and class relationships.

On the train home from school, the novel's protagonist is addressed by "a young man, whom I vaguely remembered entering the train at the last changing place". She learns that he's the son of "a farmer on a large scale", although "He looked something superior to my ideas of a farmer's son."

He mentions the idea of her coming to visit his family, suggesting that life alone with her elderly guardian must be somewhat dull, and she snubs him:

'To-night, for instance, we have a dance and a Christmas tree, and all sorts of fun.'

'Perhaps,' I said somewhat cruelly, ' our ideas of fun are different. I don't care for dancing, and I think Christmas trees are only fit for children !'

It was quite untrue, and I don't know why I said it except that the idea of this young farmer pitying me set all my pride on fire.

As they sit in silence, she observes that

' He does not look like a farmer,' I told myself, as the train sped on through the fast falling dusk. ' I should have taken him for a gentleman had he not told me.'

But as the train approaches their destination, he offers to give her a ride home, and she accepts:

' My trap will be waiting for me. Could I give you a lift? '

'You're very kind. If no one is at the station I shall be glad to accept your offer.'

('Give you a lift,' sounded homely, and left a measurable distance between us, of which I approved.)

' No kindness at all,' he answered ; ' and half a mile's walk in the rain and darkness can't be much of a treat to a young lady like yourself.'

The distance was apparently increasing. My snub had been effectual. One doesn't call one's equal a ' young lady ' — except in irony of the term!

After a ride during which nothing is said, they arrive at her guardian's house, "a dreary-looking place seen under that brooding sky".

' Thank you for your kindness,' I murmured some what lamely, as my belongings were handed to me. I stood at the gate, which he held open. My arms were full and I had no hand to extend. He lifted his hat, smiled and said, ' A pleasure, miss, I assure you,' then turned back and sprang into his trap.

' Miss,' I repeated, as I marched up the gravelled pathway leading to the front door. ' Fancy calling me — " miss." But then he isn't a gentleman.'

So is the problem in Grant Allen's novel that the caricatured American doesn't understand class distinctions properly? or that he doesn't know how to mark them correctly?



  1. Philip Taylor said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 6:09 am

    I don't remember the last time I called anyone "miss" (well, I do — 60 years ago, at primary school, when addressing an unmarried female teacher) but working as I occasionally do behind the bar of my wife's hotel in Bodmin, I use "Sir" and "Madam" as a matter of course, varying them (when possible) to use the appropriate term for non-English-speaking visitors ("Monsieur"/"Madame" for French speakers, for example). What I find interesting is that the habit of addressing my fellow males as "Sir" has now become so ingrained that I find myself addressing complete strangers in this way even if I am in a non-hotel situation. Now, for example, I will often say "Thank you, Sir" if a fellow male holds a door open for me, or if he hands me something I have dropped. The slight incongruousness of this occasionally comes to mind, but then I remember that at primary school I was taught to address everyone as "Sir" (or "Madam"), regardless of social status ("even a road-sweeper", was the teacher's actual phrase) and when, on one occasion, I responded using "Sir" to a homeless man asking for money, it gave him great pleasure — he replied "Sir ! I haven't been called that in twenty years …" which response also, of course, gave me great pleasure in return.

  2. JB said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 7:13 am

    Indeed, the young lady who mistakes the "farmer's son" for a gentleman is merely displaying her own ignorance of class markers: the landed gentry often refers to itself as "farmers" (of the gentlemanly variety, granted, but nevertheless).

    An example of this is to be found in the novels (and recent tv show) of "Patrick Melrose" by Edward St Aubyn, in which the ultra-snobbish Nicholas Pratt describes himself as a precisely a "farmer" on some form or other, and jokes about it afterwards.

  3. tony prost said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 8:28 am

    what ought he to have called her, if not "Miss"?

  4. Chris Button said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 8:46 am

    "Like all his countrymen, he laid most stress on unaccented syllables."

    John Wells in his Nov 28,2006 blog posting (http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/wells/blog0611b.htm):

    "… the impression is given that the user is somehow showing off his sophisticated use of language; as such they are used by articulate middle-class speakers (frequently by journalists and reporters)."

  5. Chris Button said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 8:50 am

    I should have added that the quote is specifically in regards to placing the intonation nucleus on a function word like a preposition when not clearly for a contrastive purpose or the like.

  6. Trogluddite said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 8:52 am

    Or is it that the character understands the class distinctions and the correct way to mark them, but uses the words ironically/sarcastically?

    As a resident of the Northern UK, this is almost the only way in which I ever hear these forms of address used; as a mild rebuke towards a person who one feels is exaggerating their social importance or to hint that they are being unnecessarily formal. I think for many people here, it is still a shibboleth in the sense that people who use those terms without irony are suspected of snobbery or of being nostalgic for less egalitarian times when commoners like me were expected to know their place. No doubt, they have always been used that way to an extent, but their use to indicate deference or politeness certainly seems to have become a thing of the past for the most part, and they are rarely used in everyday speech or customer service interactions.

    Coincidentally, I took part in a forum discussion elsewhere about precisely this subject. I was interested to discover that it was overwhelmingly US participants who still expected these forms of address and decried their decline, both in everyday speech and in particular from customer service staff. It made me wonder whether their use has declined more rapidly in the UK precisely because, as our society has become more egalitarian, the implication of deference seems more disrespectful or distasteful; whereas in the US, they have long been seen simply as common everyday politeness and don't have these class-based connotations to the same extent. I should add that I made no attempt to correlate the opinions of the US participants by their location in the US, so naturally, my impression is a very coarse generalisation based on a self-selecting group.

    Of course, I doubt that the male character in the book is really using these words ironically, unless for his private amusement; presumably the writer would have shown this by the female character's reaction or some insight into the male character's thinking if it were the case. My observations do make me think that the difference between the characters may well be in the degree to which their cultures assert class differences linguistically, analogous to the way that the T-V distinction can be baffling to many English speakers now that "thee" and "thou" are no longer in common use.

  7. Ross Presser said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 8:55 am

    In my circle of friends (aged 45-65), "Mr. " or "Miss " are very often used as terms of affection and respect, especially for older men or women, even if married. Kids are taught to greet the neighbors — again, married women — as "Mr. Ross" or "Miss Tracey". And since the kids are always using it, so do the adults, about a quarter of the time.

  8. Ross Presser said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 8:56 am

    (Forgot to say: living in New Jersey, USA, Philadelphia metro area)

  9. RP said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 9:47 am

    There is actually a choice of three terms when addressing a woman – "Miss", "Madam", "Ma'am". For a man there's only one term – "Sir". (This isn't including things like "My Lord", "Your Excellency", etc. Nor is it including "Mr", "Mrs" etc, which Ross Presser introduced to the conversation. The rules governing titles before names are quite different from those governing titles used in isolation.) It is possible to use "Mister" (without a following name) but this is regarded as emblematic of uneducated speech.

    I assume that Miss Cayley would have preferred to have been addressed as "Madam" or "Ma'am".

    In Britain, it is nearly always "Madam", except when speaking to the Queen, who prefers "Ma'am". "Miss" may be used in addressing someone who looks under 18 or who works in a shop or the like.

  10. RP said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 9:50 am

    Plus as mentioned previously, in Britain "Miss" is still conventional as a form of address from pupils to female teachers of any age – though when I was at school (in the 80s and 90s) some of our teachers objected to this practice, but it persisted.

  11. R Steinmetz said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 11:21 am

    In the US in my youth it would have been considered an insult by many young women to be called Madam or even Ma'am as those were reserved for older women or women in a position deserving greater respect. Referring to a young woman as Miss was, if not exactly common, fairly normal – especially by a man who was older than the young woman and unfamiliar with her.

    In turn of the century England how should one have addressed an unknown young woman in a casual conversation such as on a train or other public situation?

    Certainly a gentleman should have offered assistance if it were needed, so how to make the offer? Should any form of address simply have been omitted?

  12. Michael said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 11:32 am

    Here in my region (coastal Alabama) sir and ma'am are alive and well. Miss+first name is used with older women and Mr.+first name with older men, especially with ones one knows well. The only times I've heard miss being used on its own is with very young girls (maybe under 10?) and usually prefixed by little: "little miss(y)". Madam is completely unheard of here.

  13. Ross Presser said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 11:36 am


    Nor is it including "Mr", "Mrs" etc, which Ross Presser introduced to the conversation. The rules governing titles before names are quite different from those governing titles used in isolation.

    You're quite right, and I am sorry if I confused the issue. I just wanted to point out the non-intuitive use of Miss [firstname] for a *married* woman in my circle.

  14. Mary Kuhner said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 11:50 am

    Where I live (academic subculture in Seattle, WA, USA) the main use of "sir" and "ma'am" is to substitute for "Hey, you!" when that would be too rude. For example, if someone drops her purse and I need to get her attention, I'll yell "Ma'am! You dropped your purse!" because somehow not addressing her feels too non-specific and "Lady!" just a bit rude. (Why does it seem rude? Here we hit the limits of introspection….)

    "Lady" does get used when speaking to a third party: "A lady came by and asked if you were in." Despite the difference in register, I think "guy" is the male form here.

    I don't say "Miss" to anyone at all, I don't think.

    Some years ago during the dot-com crash I interviewed a very senior IT manager for a very junior academic job. After we had established that he didn't quite have the skillset I needed, I was emboldened to ask why he had applied for a job so far below his grade, and I said "Sir". It struck me as odd enough that I still remember it vividly. (His response was "Because every week we have a meeting to decide who to throw behind the carriage, and even though it's never me, I'm tired of it.") He was much older than me, and in some vague way seemed like my senior even though I was the one interviewing him.

    Forms of address are very tricky and very, very fraught. My colleages and I debate with some frequency whether it's okay for me to be "Mary" to my students, and if not, whether "Dr. Kuhner" or "Professor Kuhner" should be preferred. I personally never specify, and get all three in some mix depending on personality and subculture of the student, along with occasional "Dr. Mary" and "Professor Mary" from non-native speakers.

  15. Chas Belov said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 11:54 am

    Unless of course you're below the "hon" line.

    I'm of an age where I get sirred a lot by service people, which presents an issue where my sense of egalitarianism conflicts with my sense of new norms of gender. Specifically, my habit has been to slip in a "sir" or "ma'am" in my response – I never say "miss" – but that requires me to assume the other person's gender.

    Is there a non-gendered equivalent?

    Never mind that they've assumed my gender. The assumption is correct, but it's still an assumption.

    In my play My Visit to America, the initial address for an unintroduced person would be in the third person on the order of "the stranger," "the customer," or "the clerk."

  16. Bloix said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 11:55 am

    Some unfortunately equivocal evidence from Miss Cayley's Adventures itself. As Miss Cayley continues on her adventures, she and her friend Elsie open a stenography and typing storefront business in Florence. For a while they have no customers, but one morning an Urbane Old Gentleman appears:
    "'Can I do anything for you?' I inquired… The Urbane Old Gentleman came forward with his hat in his hand. He looked as if he had just landed from the Eighteenth Century. His figure was that of Mr. Edward Gibbon. 'Yes, madam,' he said, in a markedly deferential tone."
    So, perhaps "madam" regardless of age? The problem of course is that the Urbane Old Gentleman's speech habits are perhaps as Eighteenth Century as his figure.

  17. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 12:35 pm

    Once upon a time when I was a service-personnel myself (wait, I guess that's a mass noun?) working behind the counter at an Arby's Roast Beef, one typically used bare "Miss" in addressing female customers who looked young enough that they might be aggrieved at being addressed as "Ma'am" and otherwise in the same circumstances where one would use "Ma'am" for an older female customer or "Sir" for a male customer. We did not worry overmuch (probably not at all) about customers who might be outside the M/F binary or about the asymmetry of subdividing female addressees by age range in a way that male addressees were not. This was not a college town, and the business model was at least in this regard to conform to existing social norms as embodied in usage patterns rather than to challenge them. Customers would be less likely to use any of those titles (or any titles at all) in addressing us, suggesting the social context was flipped 180 degrees from the Edwardian situation supposed above where it would apparently be a form of address used by the person who had more status/power in the context to the one who had less.

  18. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 12:48 pm

    I should have added that the reasonably common AmEng pattern of using these deference-signalling titles addressing a stranger not presumed to be of higher status/importance, often when trying to do them a favor, as in "excuse me, Sir/Miss/Ma'am, I think you just dropped your umbrella/ticket/receipt/whatever" is a bit of an odd outlier to the general American tendency to implement egalitarianism through aggressive informality with strangers. For both parties to an interaction to use marked-as-deferential/polite modes of speech (as if each is treating the other as higher-status on a mutual/reciprocal basis) is one possible strategy for implementing egalitarianism, but it doesn't seem to be the most common one in AmEng these days, which is why I don't have a theory to explain this apparent outlier.

  19. Ethan said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 1:35 pm

    @ JWBrewer: Perhaps calling out "Sir/Ma'am, I think you just dropped something" works precisely because everyone in earshot knows that it is not a normal thing to call out either to someone you know or to someone you have eye contact with. If you heard instead "Oy, did you drop something?" it could be intended for a particular someone else rather than a specific unknown retreating figure, maybe even you yourself.

  20. David Marjanović said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 2:14 pm

    Where I live (academic subculture in Seattle, WA, USA) the main use of "sir" and "ma'am" is to substitute for "Hey, you!" when that would be too rude. For example, if someone drops her purse and I need to get her attention, I'll yell "Ma'am! You dropped your purse!"

    Fun fact: now that Fräulein is extinct, the German language lacks words for this purpose altogether. If the person is too far away that you can just blurt out "you dropped your purse" in a normal voice, you pretty much have to run after them, catch up with them, and then say "excuse me, you dropped your purse". (Always apologize for talking to a stranger.) Upside: no opportunity to make gender/age distinctions…

  21. Ellen K. said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 2:34 pm

    Yes, "Miss (first name)" is definitely distinct from plain "Miss" or "Miss" with a last name. It's a term of respect and doesn't imply youth, nor singleness. Not universal in the U.S., but out there.

  22. aka_darrell said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 3:30 pm

    After a stint in the USAF I used "Sir" in a lot of communication with men. A Jewish supervisor once scolded me "I am not your father! Don't address me as 'Sir'!" It was a difficult habit to break.

  23. JJM said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 3:33 pm

    "…except when speaking to the Queen, who prefers 'Ma'am'."

    She doesn't prefer it; it is simply the correct female equivalent of "Sir", as employed in the military and police.

  24. RP said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 4:04 pm

    Your comment doesn't make a lot of sense to me. "Correct" in what way? A look at the OED will show that "Madam" was the original form (or rather "ma dame" was); that in later centuries it was to a considerable extent replaced by "Ma'am"; and that by the early 20th century, "Ma'am" had itself fallen into disuse in Britain, and "Madam" was the standard term in most of the instances where a term was needed.

    Oxford Dictionaries Online regards "Ma'am" as either "North American" or "archaic", except in its specialised uses to address "female Royalty" or "a female officer in the police or armed forces who is senior to the speaker".

    The fact that the term "Ma'am" has survived in those specialised uses doesn't mean, however, that it can be regarded as any more "correct" (outside those fields, or in an absolute sense) than "Madam", which is in Britain the general-purpose term (to the extent that one is needed).

  25. Ellen K. said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 5:03 pm

    @RP: Ignore the last comma in JJM's post and it says exactly what you are saying.

  26. Gregory Kusnick said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 8:29 pm

    "…the correct female equivalent of 'Sir', as employed in the military and police."

    On the other hand, Det. Supt. Jane Tennison famously said "Don't call me ma'am – I'm not the bloody queen!"

  27. Levantine said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 9:43 pm

    The use of “ma’am” for the queen is further distinguished by its pronounciation, which rhymes with “ham”, whereas the same word is (by those from the southeast of England) pronounced non-rhotically as “marm” in other instances.

  28. Brett said,

    July 4, 2018 @ 1:11 am

    In the Doctor Who story "Earthshock" the female captain of a space freighter objects to her (traitorous) first mate calling her "ma'am" on the bridge. Would "captain" have been preferred on the bridge? And would he have called her by name when they were off duty? I was never certain.

  29. Ricardo said,

    July 4, 2018 @ 1:21 am

    Surprised that nobody here mentioned 'Ms.' as the preferred, formal way to address a woman nowadays, since like 'Mr.' it does not identify the person as married or not.

  30. Levantine said,

    July 4, 2018 @ 3:12 am

    Ricardo, I don’t think I’ve ever heard “Ms” used by itself as a form of address.

  31. Ricardo said,

    July 4, 2018 @ 3:35 am

    @Levantine Fair point.

  32. Kekulus Rex said,

    July 4, 2018 @ 3:57 am

    @Ricardo: how dare you presume Zir gender?

    @J.W. Brewer, as a former Arby's employee, you must also be aware of that other female term of address derived from the Arby's Roast Beef Sandwich…

  33. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 4, 2018 @ 8:03 am

    One of my granddaughters has a boyfriend who grew up in New Orleans, and sounds it. He consistently uses "sir" and "madam."

    Aside from that, the only people who call me "sir" are panhandlers.

  34. languagehat said,

    July 4, 2018 @ 8:13 am

    I don't want to rain on anyone's parade or be the Relevance Cop, but I can't help but point out that only a very few comments, early in the thread, bother to address the point of the post ("So is the problem in Grant Allen's novel that the caricatured American doesn't understand class distinctions properly? or that he doesn't know how to mark them correctly?"). People are talking about their own experiences with terms of address, either now or in their youth, but unless they're 125+ years old even their earliest youth is utterly irrelevant to the usage under discussion. As I said in the earlier thread, at that time gentlemen did not address women they had not been introduced to unless they wished to make clear they did not consider them ladies; the subtleties of late-twentieth-century usage have nothing to do with it. The social world the novel was steeped in is dead as Nineveh and Tyre.

  35. Bloix said,

    July 4, 2018 @ 9:42 am

    Not counting the many uses by the American (who even opens a letter with “Dear Miss") there are three uses of “miss” as an unadorned direct address in Miss Cayley’s Adventures:

    1) “Harold Tillington is my nephew; he's an earl's grandson; he's an attaché at Rome; and he's bound to be one of the richest commoners in England. Who are you, I'd like to know, miss, that you dare to reject him?’”

    Here, “miss” is used by an elderly and socially superior person as an insult.

    2) “The detective knew we were booked through for Edinburgh. So much I could tell, because I saw him make inquiries of the ticket examiner at York, and again at Berwick, and because the ticket-examiner thereupon entered a mental note of the fact as he punched my ticket each time: ‘Oh, Edinburgh, miss? All right.’”

    This appears to be a neutral usage by a social inferior, but it’s hard to tell, because the ticket-puncher knows that Miss Cayley is being followed by a detective and therefore may be being intentionally insulting.

    3) The most interesting example:
    “‘Is Lady Georgina at home?’ The discreet man-servant in sober black clothes eyed me suspiciously. 'No, miss,' he answered. 'That is to say—no, ma'am. Her ladyship is still at Mr. Marmaduke Ashurst's—the late Mr. Marmaduke Ashurst, I mean—in Park Lane North. You know the number, ma'am?’”
    So the servant first addresses the suspicious intruder as “miss” and then thinks the better of it and switches to a more respectful form of address – “ma’am.”

  36. Philip Taylor said,

    July 4, 2018 @ 10:18 am

    A propos example 3 of Bloix's immediately preceding post : Is it possible, I wonder, that the man-servant, rather than "switch[ing] to a more respectful form of address", has mentally revised his age estimate of the visitor in an upward direction ? In other words, might "miss" be a perfectly respectful form of address to a young lady of (say) 14, but inappropriate for an older lady of (say) 24 ?

  37. KevinM said,

    July 4, 2018 @ 11:37 am

    Could the "miss=barmaid/streetwalker" presumption reflect a 19c sexist notion that a young woman working for a living is not married, or even marriageable?

  38. RP said,

    July 4, 2018 @ 1:08 pm

    Even today Oxford Dictionaries Online defines "Miss" as (either a British form of address for a female teacher or): "Used as a polite form of address to a young woman or to a waitress or female shop assistant." (The US edition of ODO says "Used as a polite form of address to a young woman or to a waitress, etc.")
    Now, although the conjunction "or" is used in that definition, it's easy to see how a middle- or upper-class women above the age of majority might have seen "Miss" as demeaning, if it was also or primarily used as a form of address to working-class women in service jobs.

    (By contrast, M-W simply gives this definition: "young lady —used without a name as a conventional term of address to a young woman". Nothing about shops or cafés.)

    In the 1964 edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the only definition of "Miss" as a form of address (as distinct from a title before a name) is "(voc., in servants' or trade use) young lady" – which is rather unclear. I know that "voc" means "vocatively", but does "servants' use" mean *by* servants (and if so, among themselves?) or *to* them (as might be suggested by ODO above)?

  39. Q. Pheevr said,

    July 5, 2018 @ 10:24 pm

    I think the crucial piece here may be "every time he addressed me"—the American continues to call the narrator "miss" (and not "Miss Cayley") even after he learns her name, whereas she calls him "Mr. Hitchcock." Likewise, the young man in A Jilt's Journal uses "miss" by itself after he has said, "I believe I am not wrong in addressing you as Miss Trent" (and received confirmation of this).

  40. Michele Sharik said,

    July 6, 2018 @ 12:33 pm

    “pronounced non-rhotically as “marm” in other instances.”

    How is “marm” non-rhotic?

  41. RP said,

    July 6, 2018 @ 4:04 pm

    "Marm" can be rhotic or non-rhotic, depending whether the speaker has a rhotic or non-rhotic accent. For the vast majority of English English speakers, "marm" is pronounced non-rhotically. In RP and many other accents (especially in the southeast and in the midlands), it's /mɑːm/.

  42. languagehat said,

    July 6, 2018 @ 4:53 pm

    Louisa May Alcott was from Eastern Massachusetts and surely had a non-rhotic accent, meaning that "Marmee" in Little Women is just a different way to spell "Mommy." One thing that greatly irritated me in the recent PBS televised version was the determinedly rhotic "Marrr-mee" that was used; I presume that's how most (rhotic) Americans now say it, but you'd think they could have done a little research and/or thinking before perpetuating that idiocy.

  43. Alexander said,

    July 6, 2018 @ 5:32 pm

    Similarly, the Korean surname 박 Bak is often "Park" in English.

  44. Bloix said,

    July 6, 2018 @ 10:02 pm

    Marrr-mee was annoying, wasn't it? It's not like they couldn't have known – see eg https://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/books/review/marmee-dearest.html ("They called her Mommy!") But "mommy" in modern American English has become so utterly childish that perhaps pronouncing it the way Alcott intended would have been more incorrect than pronouncing it incorrectly.
    "Schoolmarm" is similar- the UK pronunciation is "schoolmom." https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/pronunciation/english/schoolmarm
    Not to mention Eeyore.

  45. Michael Watts said,

    July 7, 2018 @ 4:01 am

    But "mommy" in modern American English has become so utterly childish that perhaps pronouncing it the way Alcott intended would have been more incorrect than pronouncing it incorrectly.

    This seems like a major failure of the culture. Why would you train children to use a name they will quickly have to stop using? What's supposed to cue them to switch?

  46. Ellen K. said,

    July 7, 2018 @ 8:57 am

    Does anyone rhotic actually say "marm"? Or do they just spell it without an R? And, if there are people who pronounce an R, who are there?

    Arse/ass comes to mind. Americans don't have an R, and don't spell it with an R. Non-rhotic British speakers don't have an R sound, though spell it with an R. But Irish people do say it with an R.

  47. Ellen K. said,

    July 7, 2018 @ 9:02 am

    @Michael Watts:

    Train children to say Mommy? I don't think anything so formal as training usually occurs. Others call the mother "Mommy" to the child, and the child learns from that.

    As for not using it when older, it's not that they have to stop using it. It's just that that's what's usually done. Mom's don't go saying "Okay, don't call me Mommy anymore, you're too old.".

  48. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 7, 2018 @ 3:26 pm

    I know several grownups who call their parents "Mommy" and "Daddy" and at least three of my children, who range from 31 to 57, consistently call me "Daddy." It doesn't strike me as being at all childish.

  49. Philip Taylor said,

    July 8, 2018 @ 6:51 am

    Bloix : ""Schoolmarm" is similar- the UK pronunciation is "schoolmom". https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/pronunciation/english/schoolmarm"

    How do you derive your assertion from the link cited ? I hear /ˈskuːl mɑːm/, with a touch of rhoticity in the American version. No trace of an /ɒ/ that I can hear in either.

  50. Ellen said,

    July 8, 2018 @ 3:22 pm

    Philip Taylor, the American Mom is pronounced with an unrounded vowel. Sounds pretty much like the marm in the UK pronunciation of schoolmarm at that link. Well, for those of us without the cot-caught merger, at least.

  51. Julie said,

    July 8, 2018 @ 11:50 pm

    Can anyone explain what is intended in the same book by mocking another character, apparently for being non-rhotic? I am assuming that all the characters, except perhaps the American, would be non-rhotic at this time. So why emphasize this "fellah's" speech?

  52. James Kabala said,

    July 9, 2018 @ 8:23 am

    Language Hat: I know that social mores and etiquette were much stricter then, but are you sure your interpretation is correct? The women in both excerpts do not seem to have a problem with being addressed, simply with being called "miss."

  53. languagehat said,

    July 9, 2018 @ 8:52 am

    It would be impossible to be sure unless one could interview the author. But I was not providing an "interpretation" so much as a fact about social relations of the time. It was of course not impossible for a man to address a woman he had not been introduced to — he might have to alert her that she had dropped something, that a vehicle was bearing down on her, or any number of contingencies — but he would have to do so in a way that acknowledged the situation. It is clear from the excerpt that the woman did not like the way he addressed her, and the unrelenting use of "miss" was part of it, but I can't provide a complete exegesis.

  54. RP said,

    July 9, 2018 @ 1:12 pm

    @Ellen K.,
    "Arvo" (Australian colloquialism for "afternoon") would be another example. I'd be surprised if anyone pronounces it rhotically.

    "Arse"/"ass" is a slightly different matter, since "arse" is (by many centuries) the older form, and originally the "r" was pronounced by rhotic speakers (and, as you note, still is pronounced by rhotic speakers in Ireland etc).

    From experience, some southern English people assume that the two forms represent a single word and pronounce "ass" the same way they would pronounce "arse", with the vowel they give to "class", but others (including those from northern England, who have the "trap" vowel in "class") would recognise them as two separate forms with separate pronunciations.

  55. RP said,

    July 9, 2018 @ 1:22 pm

    Can you give an example for those of us who haven't yet read the book?
    Also, are you assuming that the spelling "fellah" is mocking non-rhotic speech (which I think would be an incorrect assumption, since the original word doesn't have an "r", so it is more likely mocking the use of a schwa as the final vowel) or is that just by the by?
    Your assumption that "all the characters, except perhaps the American, would be non-rhotic at this time" might be too big an assumption, since rhotic speech was significantly more widespread in the England of 1900 than it is today. Even today there are still some areas of southwestern England and pockets of northern England that are rhotic, though this has greatly declined, especially in the north. However, what seems clear to me is that non-rhotic was already the prestige variety in 1900, so, like you, I'm unclear why the narrator would have been mocking non-rhotic accents.
    However, another thing to bear in mind is that, as some commenters mentioned previously, eye-dialect sometimes involves drawing attention to uneducated speech through the somewhat counterintuitive mechanism of representing a perfectly standard, acceptable and normal pronunciation ("wot", "sez", etc).

  56. Julie said,

    July 9, 2018 @ 2:50 pm

    You're right. I shouldn't have used fellow as an example. This character, and only this character speaks in this eye-dialect. His slang probably deserves mockery, but I wonder about the pronunciations. But here are some quotes:(From The Adventure of the Pea-Green Patrician)
    'Good evening,' he said, in a baronial drawl. 'Miss Cayley, I gathah? I asked the skippah's leave to sit next yah. We ought to be friends—rathah. I think yah know my poor deah old aunt, Lady Georgina Fawley.'
    'No, really? Poor deah old Georgey!….For between you and me, a moah cantankerous spiteful acidulated old cough-drop than the poor deah soul it 'ud be difficult to hit upon.'
    'Oh, yaas. Wasn't it real jam? He did the doctor-trick on a lady in Switzerland. And the way he has come it ovah deah simple old Marmy!…'

  57. RP said,

    July 9, 2018 @ 3:58 pm

    I haven't read enough to have a complete picture, but I noticed that Miss Cayley is the daughter of a captain of the 42nd Highlanders, a Scots regiment. If she was Scottish then she probably was a rhotic speaker. Also, Grant Allen, having lived in Canada until he was 13 and having an Irish mother, must have been a rhotic speaker (at least in his younger years).
    So perhaps it is after all possible that our attention is being drawn to patrician non-rhoticity. However, another possibility is that the "ah"s here don't so much represent non-rhoticity (or at least, not as the distinctive feature being parodied) but a particular vowel sound. At any rate it is interesting that, whereas American rhotic speakers often parody non-rhotic speech with spellings such as "skippah", to me as a non-rhotic speaker the more obvious respelling would seem to be "skippuh", with "skippah" suggesting /ɑ:/ rather than /ə/.
    The use of the word "drawl" might indicate that these "ah"s represent the use of a drawn-out vowel possibly sounding closer to /ɑ:/ than to the canonical /ə/ which other non-rhotic speakers would use here.
    The use of "yaas" for "yes" adds to this impression.
    I think "yaas" for "yes" and "yah" or "yar" for "year" might still be recognised in Britain as representations of a stereotypically upper-class accent.

  58. Bloix said,

    July 9, 2018 @ 5:33 pm

    Julie – the character you are referring to – the one who speaks in a "baronial drawl" – is the son and heir of a lord. I read moah, heah, etc. as having two syllables and the 'ah"'s generally to be an exaggerated aristocratic accent. We are supposed to find his speech unbearably grating. He's not the only character who speaks in eye-dialect – there's an Irishman who does, and we are supposed to find him amusing:

    We asked his name. "Tis Dr. Macloghlen,' he answered. 'I'm from County Clare, ye see; and I'm on me way to Egypt for thravel and exploration. Me fader whisht me to see the worruld a bit before I'd settle down to practise me profession at Liscannor. Have ye ever been in County Clare? Sure, 'tis the pick of Oireland.'

    RP – although she has Scottish connections, we know for certain that Miss Cayley is not Scottish (although if she were it would have become obvious earlier) because of a plot twist:

    'Then you are a Scotchman?' the minister asked.
    'Yes,' Harold answered frankly: 'by remote descent. We are trebly of the female line at Gledcliffe; still, I am no doubt more or less Scotch by domicile.'
    'Younger of Gledcliffe! Oh, yes, that ought certainly to be quite sufficient for our purpose. Do you live there?'
    'I have been living there lately. I always live there when I'm in Britain. It is my only home. I belong to the diplomatic service.'
    'But then—the lady?'
    'She is unmitigatedly English,' Harold admitted, in a gloomy voice.
    'Not quite,' I answered. 'I lived four years in Edinburgh. And I spent my holidays there while I was at Girton. I keep my boxes still at my old rooms in Maitland Street.'
    'Oh, that will do,' the minister answered, quite relieved.

  59. Julie said,

    July 9, 2018 @ 6:06 pm

    Miss Cayley's accent does not seem to be recognizable as Scottish to the other characters.I would guess that we are to understand that she successfully affected the accent of the school she attended at Cambridge. I would think it would be significant to the story, either way. Near the end, she has to declare herself as Scottish in order to marry in Scotland. She isn't recognized as such by the people of the border town.

    "Yar" for "year" would be stereotypically country hick in much of the US.

    I'm a rhotic native of northern California, and you're right, those spellings are exactly how I would mock a speaker of the non-rhotic "Good American English" that you hear in old movies.

  60. Bloix said,

    July 9, 2018 @ 11:25 pm

    "Near the end, she has to declare herself as Scottish in order to marry in Scotland."
    Not so. The minister would have been happy to marry her to Harold because his Scottish connection was sufficient. "Indeed, now I come to think of it, it suffices for the Act if one only of the parties is domiciled in Scotland. And as Mr. Tillington lives habitually at Gledcliffe, that settles the question." So the plot does not require Miss Cayley to be Scottish.

    We know Ms. Cayley is half-Scottish through her father, an officer in the Black Watch regiment (42nd Highlanders), but we also know that she did not grow up in Scotland – she tells us that she lived four years, no more, in Edinburgh – and that has an aunt in Blackheath, a London neighborhood of stately terraced houses – which strongly implies that her mother was a Londoner.

    Although Miss Cayley's personality may have been inherited from her Scottish father – brave, shrewd, hard-working, independent – her accent is certainly from her mother's side.

  61. Philip Taylor said,

    July 10, 2018 @ 2:06 pm

    Although Blackheath is now a part of Greater London, it was almost certainly in Kent at the time the story takes place.

  62. RP said,

    July 10, 2018 @ 2:50 pm

    @Philip Taylor,
    That's of little consequence, unless you think that middle-class Kent accents differed from middle-class London ones in (non-)rhoticity or in other respects that are important to the discussion.
    But in any case, it seems Blackheath had been managed by the London County Council since 1889, a decade before the book was published.

  63. Philip Taylor said,

    July 10, 2018 @ 3:11 pm

    RP: "That's of little consequence …". I respectfully disagree. If Blackheath was in Kent at the time the story is set, then the existence of an aunt in Blackheath would strongly suggest that her mother was a Kentish Maid, not a Londoner. As I have not read the story, I do not know whether the author set it in the present (in which case Blackheath was, as you correctly point out, already a part of Greater London) or in the past, when Blackheath was still a part of Kent.

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