Madam /ˈmædəm/, or, as French, madame /ˈmædəm/ or /məˈdɑːm/, is a polite form of address for women, often contracted to ma'am /ˈmæm/. The abbreviation is "Mme" or "Mme" and the plural is mesdames (abbreviated "Mmes" or "Mmes"). The term was borrowed from the French madame ([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? The male equivalent is "sir".
After addressing her as "Your Majesty" once, it is correct to address the Queen of the United Kingdom as "Ma'am" 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.
However, the title Madam Justice is used in third-person reference: Madam Justice Louise Arbour, Madam Justice Arbour.
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 because 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.
"Madam" often refers to a woman, usually older, who manages a brothel, escort service or some other form of prostitution for profit, that is, a procuress.
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"; for example, "Mme. Chiang Kai-shek" was used by Soong Mei-ling, wife of Chiang Kai-shek
In some Arab countries, especially Egypt and the Levant, "Madam", pronounced with a long second "a" as in the French, is used generally as a polite term for a married woman.