Pulse Blogger: Sheenglishing eeenglish; English and women titles (part three)



I have a little problem with the word ‘madam.’ Although it gained honourable places in authoritative English dictionaries, lexicographers in many of these dictionaries do not see anything wrong with this definition: “a woman who is in charge of a group of prostitutes who live or work in the same house.”

That’s the definition of ‘madam’ that the third edition of Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary provides after explaining that ‘Madam’ is ‘a formal and polite way of speaking to a woman.’

Microsoft Encarta also goes on to define ‘madam’ as ‘woman who manages a brothel’ after letting us know that ‘Madam’ is used to refer to a woman in an official letter and ‘before the name of a woman’s official position as a term of address.’

I observed a pattern in the meanings that various dictionaries offer. When they use ‘Madam’ (note the capital letter M), the woman is an entity of grace and honour but when they write ‘madam’ (note the small letter ‘m’), the woman becomes a brothel keeper.

I can therefore conveniently tell you: show me your boss or employees and I will tell you who you are. If you are the boss and your employees are prostitutes, I don’t need to spell it to you that you are a prostitute. If you are an employee and your boss is a ‘madam’ – someone who runs a brothel – I’ll just expediently let you know that you are a prostitute too.

But some dictionaries just mixed them all up. For example, 21st Century Dictionary does not differentiate between the meanings as separated by capitalization and humiliation of the M. By ‘humiliation of the M,’ I mean cases wherein the good and positive meaning of ‘Madam’ is battered by writing the first letter of that word in a lower case.

This dictionary recognizes the word as ‘madam’ and gives it two positive meanings followed by two negative meanings. One of the two positive meanings that 21st Century Dictionary provides is “a form of address to a woman in authority, often prefixed to an official title. Madam Chairman.” One of the negative definitions it gives is “a woman who manages a brothel.”

It also sees ‘madam’ as ‘an arrogant or spoiled girl or young woman.’  WordWeb dictionary also gives four positive and negative meanings of ‘Madam’ closely related to the ones 21st Century dictionary provides. The negative one that catches my attention is the description that gives up a ‘Madam’ as: ‘a bossy or impertinent girl.’ I found many other dictionaries that do not follow the pattern of lower and upper cases for negative and positive meanings.

Written by Omidire Idowu.

Omidire, Idowu Joshua develops contents, edits and proofreads for publication firms. Reach him through noblelifeliver@gmail.com or @IAmEagleHeart (twitter).