Mademoiselle - A Fond Farewell

Under pressure from women's advocacy groups, France will no longer refer to a woman as "mademoiselle". In the United States, we use "Ms." but not by government decree.

Having spent all my high school years under the tutelage of a wonderful French teacher named Mademoiselle Robillard, I was somewhat taken aback to read in the New York Times that the term "mademoiselle" has been banished from official forms and registries by Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

"Mademoiselle" is most commonly thought to refer to a female's matrimonial situation with married women being referred to as "Madame",  It is also used to refer to a young woman. Young French men are often referred to as 'jeune homme' through their 20's before they are referred to as "Monsieur".  The advocates of the elimination of "mademoiselle" have suggested that a young woman be similarly called "jeune femme" before aging into "madame".

Advocates of this change say that "mademoiselle"  is a term that suggests female subjugation but the article suggests that is not an universal interpretation.  Apparently the term originated in the late 1600's to mean an unmarried female but it was not broadly used until the 20th century.

English usage of the term "miss" had similar dual connotations of referring to a young female or an unmarried female.  Although it is still used to some degree and is an option when filling out forms, it has largely been replaced by "Ms".  "Ms.", however, does not connote age in the same way as "jeune femme" although it has become the accepted way of referring to all females - married and unmarried.

I guess I should not have been surprised about this change given the adoption of "Ms." in English-speaking countries.  I did find it surprising that the Prime Minister had actually decreed the term's demise. With so many more serious women's issues to consider - health, jobs, education, family-raising, etc., this seems inconsequential in so many ways and yet it somehow rose to the top of the Prime Minister's agenda.

It will be interesting to see if, in fact, "mademoiselle" can be removed from French life by decree or whether it will live on in some sort of government defiance.  In the meantime, I am wondering how to reference my French teacher of years ago.  "Mademoiselle" seemed like such a lovely word.

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Bob Ogden March 04, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Gracias Don Miguel. I do have one other question regarding French. Both French Fries and French Toast are named the same but why do they taste so different? Also, can you put maple syrup on French Fries?
Jay March 04, 2012 at 07:59 PM
I thought Don Miguel was heading in this direction when he objected to youngsters' calling him (a distinguished elder) by his first name. But since he didn't quite get there, I will contribute my disgust at being addressed as "young lady" (and my husband as "young man"). I know that in some language cultures those terms are honorifics, not little pats on the heads of pets or a form of address directed at a misbehaving child--as they are in American English. Here, calling an elder "young man" or "young lady" is like calling a fat man "Slim" or a bald man "Fuzzy." It is at the least an inappropriate familiarity and at worst an intentional sneer at a perceived defect. If you MUST address me directly (which, if you think about it, is rarely required), I'll happily accept Miss, Ms, Ma'am, Madam, or--if I'm about to step out into traffic--Hey You! But if you MUST call me something with the word "lady" in it, make it MiLady or Your Ladyship. Thanks, callow youth!
Miguel Hernandez March 04, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Dear Mr. Belcher: The Spanish claim that fried potatoes aka, patatas fritas, pommes frites or French Fries if you like was invented in their country; the first European nation in which the potato appeared via their colonies in America. From Spain they migrated to the Spanish Netherlands, which later became Belgium. From there the lowly potato wandered all over Europe where it was boiled, baked, fried and made into vodka in Russia. Depending on the country you are in, French fries are commonly eaten with a variety of sauces --ketchup in the U.S, malt vinegar in the U.K., mayonnaise in the Netherlands and with mussels in Belgium. By the way, Belgium is the home of the world’s only Friet Museum. Visitors can learn the history of fries and their origin in Belgium. In addition, they have information on how to make the best fries; and finally you can taste them with a variety of sauces. As far as I know, nobody puts maple syrup on them but I will try it one of these days and let you know. As for French Toast; It has many European origins and recipies but supposedly an American named Joseph French gave it its name in our country He owned an inn in Albany, NY and served it to his guests back in 1724. I make mine in an egg batter with orange juice and Grand Marnier. Naturally, I call it Drunken French Toast
Greg Tart March 05, 2012 at 01:56 AM
Thanks Barbara, never thought of that
Greg Tart March 05, 2012 at 01:59 AM
You look pretty snazzy in that picture, are you sure they don't call you "Don Juan"


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