Mom, Mum, Mam: Different words?

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott

I’m reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women right now. Throughout the book, the March sisters refer to their mother as “marmee.” This looks like an odd term of endearment until you remember that Alcott grew up (and set her book in) Eastern Massachusetts. Given that her accent was probably non-rhotic (i.e. she dropped her r’s), “marmee” is essentially a different way of writing modern-day mommy.

This got me thinking. We have several informal words for “mother” in English: mum (heard in much of England), mom (heard in much of America), and mam (heard in Ireland and Northern England). But are these actually different words, or are they just, in some sense, the same word?

Although “mum,” “mam,” and “momread differently, they’re often pronounced in a very similar way. Here’s a comparison of three different dialects, and their “mom” pronunciations (don’t worry if you aren’t proficient in IPA — I’ll explain after):

London: “mum” — [mɐm]
General American: “mom” — [mɑm]
Manchester, UK: “mam” — [mam]

Whether you understand the IPA symbols above or not, the point is that in these three dialects, the words are quite close in pronunciation. To be fair, there are some regions where this is not the case. In the Western US, for example, mom is often more clearly “mawm.” Still, is it possible that mom and mum and mam began as different spellings rather than different words?

I suspect this may be the case because written usage of them seems fairly recent. Mom and mum appear to only date back to the 19th Century in written form. I’m curious if perhaps mam is the earliest of these, and mom and mum were just different ways of rendering this.

But that’s all I can say for now. I’ve been able to find little information as to whether these words have some common derivation. Google searches of “mom vs. mum” or “mom mum mam” don’t yield anything substantial. I haven’t found much info about their etymologies either. Any thoughts?

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About Ben Trawick-Smith

Ben Trawick-Smith began his dialect fascination while working in theatre. He has worked as an actor, playwright, director, critic and dialect coach. Other passions include linguistics, urban development, philosophy and film.
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65 Responses to Mom, Mum, Mam: Different words?

  1. Ros says:

    I have always assumed that mom and mum both derive from mother – mum because of the ‘mu’ sound at the start of mother and ‘mom’ because of the initial ‘mo’ in mother. But mam is much more likely to be derived from mama, surely? And in my experience ‘mam’ is pronounced quite differently from ‘mum’ and ‘mom’.

    • florhynes says:

      curiously, when I went to UK, from Ireland, in the 1950′s, I was surprised at how many of my compatriots had switched to using the local Mum/Mummy instead of “Mam”/Mammy, even though, like me, they were new to living in UK. In years since, I have thought that “Mummy”, or “Mum” was felt to be more “posh” by the Irish young people…just as it became common for them to return to Ireland, having spent a short 2-3 months in England, but already sporting the London accent !…

      • Roslyn Ross says:

        Given that the South Africans also say Mom I suspect the use of it in the US is sourced in Dutch immigrants. This can be pronounced as ‘mum’ but as often as not is now said as ‘morm.’

        Mama is the first word many babies will use, like Dada, and so no doubt Mam or Mammee or Mama comes from this.

        Mum is the English spelling, and used in Australia and New Zealand. The Canadians did say mum but the overwhelming American influence now has pulled them into Mom.

  2. 'enry 'iggins says:

    It’s funny; I saw a very similar point made here, if you go down to “14 Feb”, click on “TRAP-LOT-STRUT” and open it up in PowerPoint. That’s the web page of some linguist who is originally from England, but now lives in Iceland. You can go through some of his other courses too.

  3. trawicks says:

    @Ros,

    It probably depends on the dialect. Western Ireland, for example, would probably pronounce it so it sounds like “ma’am.” But the difference between how a Londoner says “mum” and someone from Northern England says “mam” is much more minimal.

    @’enry,

    Thanks, that’s pretty much exactly what I was looking for! He very much suggests that they are all the same word.

  4. Jon says:

    OK, I dipped my toe in the water on Twitter (I’m @ruchbah out of disguise). My colleague Jonnie (who is accents and dialects king) is originally from outer Birmingham and calls his mother ‘mom’. I have heard other UK West Midlanders pronounce [mɒm] and spell it too. I suspect it’s a separate but connected phenomenon to the US ‘mom’. I can’t find any proper academic sources on it (yet — I will be studying this region in about 2 months) but there must be some :)

    • trawicks says:

      Interesting … what you MAY be hearing is “mum” pronounced with a Brummie accent. A common pronunciation for “strut” words (i.e. words like “mum” or “cut” or “bud”), as per the Handbook of Varieties of English, is [ɒ]. Which would suggest the “mum” is very much a separate word from “mam” or “mom” in Birmingham!

      • Emma woods says:

        No they are NOT hearing Mum with a Brummie accent- we in the West Midlands do actually say and spell Mom with an “0″

    • Geoff S says:

      Interesting post from Jon. Like his friend I am also from outer Birmingham and have always pronounced and written the word in question as “mom”. Most working-class Brummies I know pronounce the word as “mom”.

      • Roslyn Ross says:

        There is no doubt that the spelling of the English language has changed dramatically over time. The ‘o’ and ‘u’ like many letters can be interchangeable depending upon how the word is pronounced.
        Let’s remember that it is only say 100 years since the UK had universal literacy. Anyone who does ancestry research knows that looking for a name is likely to bring dividends if you take into account the same word in all its phonetic manifestations.

  5. Tom says:

    Just to back up Jon on the West Midlands “mom” as [mɒm] thing – this is a well-known phenomenon in that region, and this spelling is used by many speakers there – some of whom apparently feel quite passionately about this, cf http://www.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/customs/blog/2006/04/mum-and-mom.html

    Academic sources are hard to come by, but here’s a nice sample of a West Midlands dialect with a couple of “moms” clearly audible : http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/sounds/text-only/england/danesford/

    trawicks, “mom” pronounced with a Brummie accent would be closer to [mʊm] so I think we can discount this explanation. As to what this tells us etymologically, I have no idea.

    • trawicks says:

      I’ve usually assumed it to be [mʊm] as well, although it definitely ranges lower, to something more along the lines of [ɔ], which is why I could see somebody hearing [mɔm] and assuming it to be “mom.” Great clip! We don’t hear midlands dialects much at all in the States, so this is my first time hearing Brummie “mom!”

      PS I meant for their to be a centralized diacritic on the ɔ above. Alas, WordPress and unicode have a tempestuous relationship …

  6. iakon says:

    Just to muddy the waters, here in B. C. I hear mostly ‘mum’, but most people spell it ‘mom’. I knew one fella who said ‘mawm’, but his father was American.
    There is a Newfie nurse who works in our village hospital; she says ‘mam’. The rest of her speech sounds pretty Irish, too.

  7. stormboy says:

    I’m from London and would say the pronunciation here is mʌm (with the STRUT vowel).

    • trawicks says:

      That is the way it’s broadly transcribed, but this vowel is usually noted to be a bit lower and fronter in London English. Then again, this vowel is a bit “all over the place” in most accents of English.

  8. tammy says:

    ma ma (first words)
    mammy, mam
    mommy, mom
    mummy, mum

  9. Kelv says:

    Mam also heard in much of Wales, where it doubles up as the Welsh word for ‘mother’.

  10. mollymooly says:

    The equivalent Irish Gaelic word is spelt “mamaí”, and the vowel can map to the Irish English TRAP, LOT, or CLOTH depending on the speaker’s accents (in both languages). My mammy is a native speaker of Munster Irish; when she says “mVmmy” (in English) it rhymes with “Commie”.

    Irish English “Ma” has PALM, whereas Little-House-on-the-Prairie English “Ma” seems to me to have THOUGHT.

  11. trawicks says:

    @iakon,

    The Canadian “mom” vs. “mum” question has always puzzled me. The “cot-caught merger” definitely doesn’t help, since the vowels in “strut,” “lot” and “caught” all seem to hover around in a similar vowel space.

    @mollymoody,

    Interesting point about the Irish informal “mom” word! I’m assuming the more cumbersome “máthair” isn’t used as much?

    • 'enry 'iggins says:

      The “butt” vs. “bum” question is interesting too. I think they say “bum” more than Americans (think of Tom Green). In fact when I’ve heard Americans say bum, they were usually imitating Tom Green.

      since the vowels in “strut,” “lot” and “caught” all seem to hover around in a similar vowel space.

      There isn’t a merger of those vowels in any North American accent as far as I know. But I think in some cases Canadian STRUT can be more open than it is in my accent (I don’t know about yours or anyone else’s). This is because “cot” and “caught” merge in a low and far back position and this leaves the low central area open. So STRUT can move in that direction. It’s something like [ɐ] in some Canadian accents I’ve heard. But of course I can’t say every Canadian pronounces it the same way.

  12. Mark Flowers says:

    The OED seems to share your guess, but without substatiating it:

    mama, n.1 (and int.)
    Brit. /məˈmɑː/ , /ˈmamə/ , U.S. /ˈmɑmə/ , /məˈmɑ/ Forms: 15– mama, 15– mamma; U.S. regional18 mammer. (Show Less)
    Etymology: Of uncertain origin, but probably ultimately < a (reduplicated) syllable /ma/ which is characteristic of early infantile vocalization and regarded by some as a development of the sound sometimes made by a baby when breastfeeding. Compare mam n.1, mammy n., and ma n.3, and also mum n.2, mummy n.2, mom n., momma n., mommy n., maum n., mauma n.: these forms are probably all ultimately related, perhaps all originating as variants of forms in -a-, although the exact relationship is unclear.

  13. trawicks says:

    @Mark,

    Good cite! I would not be surprised if “mam” was the prototype, and the variations were mostly a product of orthography or vowel shifts.

    @’enry,

    Don’t mean to suggest all three are merged. But the lowering of STRUT and the backing of TRAP in many Canadian accents makes things a little crowded.

  14. Pingback: "Um" in Different Accents | Dialect Blog

  15. Alan J S says:

    Having lived in the States, after being educated in England, then marrying a Texan I have come to the following conclusion: Americans speak American, English speak English. The similarities and the history of the languages makes some believe one is right and one is wrong. There are two different languages that happen to have a close connection. Mr Webster (of American dictionary fame) decided to compile his dictionary with the specific objective of distinguishing his inherited language from its origins. Hence different words, different spellings and different accentuation of syllables. Then, of course, there are all the regional variations and the influences of languages from all over the world. Latin died (OK, mortally wounded then) because the Romans would not let it evolve.
    My wife pointed out that the English language taken west across the Atlantic was that of the seventeenth century. For those who wish to do so making a comparison of today’s English language and spelling to that used by voyagers on the Mayflower yields words, syntax and grammar differences that, at times, may begin to explain why we speak different languages on the two sides of the ocean. As soon as English was floated over the sea and landed on another continent it began to evolve in a different direction from the evolution path of its origin.
    By the way, my English mother used to delight in receiving two Mother’s Day cards every year… one addressed to Mum (in March), and another addressed to Mom (in May).

    • Roslyn Ross says:

      Not really. Americans speak English. The language is English it is not American and neither is it French, Russian or any other language. Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, Americans, and the British all speak English as do a few other countries which have taken it on as their national language as ex colonials, including India where it is still a major language and the language of most higher education. You could be forgiven for thinking, hearing Indians speak that the language is English but it is. Just as you could be forgiven hearing some Americans speak, that it is English, but it is.

      They are most definitely not two different languages anymore than French Canadians are speaking a different language to the French. They may be speaking an older version of French but it remains French. Americans may speak in what equates to regional colloquial English at times but it remains English.

      The Americans, partly in a bid to distance themselves from Mother England, and partly to simplify, one would say, dumb down the language, have done a lot of work on changing spelling, but it remains English although not correctly spelled English if one is to study the core language. American spelling may make it easier for the less bright to learn to spell but it rather subtracts from the substance and depth of the words which have been tinkered with.

      If you were correct that the language Americans speak and the language other English speakers use were different languages, then they would not be in essence, spelling aside, exactly the same language with the same rules, structure and vocabulary. There is no doubt that Americans have their own colloquialisms, which are sometimes home-grown, but so do all English speakers around the world and for that matter, around Britain. But a few colloquialisms does not another language make. It is not even dialect.

      What is perhaps interesting is how little English has evolved as you suggest in those other nations which use it as their mother tongue. But that no doubt is because of the vastly and ever-increasing capacity for connection and communication which kept people in touch so that language had neither need or opportunity to wander off on its own merry way.

      One demonstration of the impact of communication on language is Australia, and I would add Canada, (Quebec aside), where with the same sorts of size in terms of country, accent and pronunciation remain pretty consistent from one side to the other. Perhaps the fact that both nations are marginally younger from the US has made the difference because there are regional accents in the US. Although no doubt higher population in the US is a factor. But nowhere has English developed in such variety of form as the United Kingdom. Then again that happened over thousands of years and has decreased in recent centuries in the age of communication.

      In one of those lovely ironies, talking language, those who study accent have decided that the ‘modern’ English accent is actually very like the Australian accent – a development which has come about through the addiction British children and teenagers have had to Australian television programmes in the past 40 years. A ‘win for the ex-colonials perhaps. Then again, the Australian accent is an amalgam of various English regional accents, various regional Scottish accents, various regional Irish accents and no doubt a good pinch of German as these were our main early settler groups.

      Language as ever is a living, evolving entity and always fascinating.

  16. Derek Davies says:

    hello,I am from Wales, and we call our mother “Mam or Mammy”.We have different names for our grandparents. ie.”Bampi” for Grandad or Grampa and “Mamgi ” for Grandma or Nana.Its all just a regional thing when you add it all up.Its what makes people around the world interesting.Nos ta “Good night “.

  17. Scott says:

    I grew up around Boston, USA. While I always spell it “Mom”, I, along with many others with a Boston accent, pronounce it “Mum”. When I travel outside of New England, other Americans seem to think I sound English in my pronunciation of “Mom”. The rest of America undoubtedly says Mom and does not pronounce the “O” with a “U” sound like I do. Although, I only say “Mum” when I’m talking to my mother directly. If I was talking about her, I would say “Mother” (pronounced “Muthah”).

    I also have the same issue pronouncing the word “Hot”, where it almost sounds like I’m saying, “Hut”. I’m not sure if it’s a regional thing, or just me though.

    • Michael says:

      I’m from NYC where people pronounce ER quite like people in Boston do. If I talk with my parents, I always say MAH. Mom is pronounced as MAHM.

      I always distinguish COT from CAUGHT. However, my pronunciation of AW sounds like wuh to some friends of mine coming from outside NYC. So it’s kinda impossible for me to pronounce Mom as MAWM, for if so, it would sound like MWUHM. A tad weird, huh?

      I also add R to some schwa’s while constantly dropping R after some schwa’s

      1, doctor=DAHKTUH

      2, Selena=Selener, quoted as saying from Nicki Minaj ft. Justin Bieber “But I gotta keep an eye on SelenER”

      My mom’s from Chicago where people speak more refined. She’s kinda pissed off when hearing me speaking vulgarly.

      • Scott says:

        Interesting. Now that you mention it, I do know plenty of people that also say “MAH” when talking directly to their mother. As you noted, there are plenty of similarities between NY and Boston dialects.

  18. Mike Smith says:

    Our baby goats, when a bit uncertain or worried call out to their goat mother.
    They call “Ma ! “. It really sounds like a good human child calling to his mother ” Ma !”
    Ma is the root word meaning breasts and teats. From the root word “Ma” we derive in our language “mammals” “mammaries” and the rest.
    We humans derived the words in our language from many sources but I am firmly convinced that the word for our mother “Ma ” comes from goat language.

  19. rya says:

    I’m from Manitoba Canada myself. I would say that “Mom” is the most common with “Mum” being less common but in free variation and “Mam” almost unheard of. The rural western accent tends to pronounce LOT/THOUGHT as a rounded back vowel, while more urban accents tend to be unrounded. Most rurally influenced people also tend to have very back TRAP vowels even before nasals, so the word ma’am sounds like an eastern American Mom or northern English Mam. Personally I say Mom in a way an American might hear as Mawm, and this seems to be quite common, although more urban/general Canadian accents might sound more like the General American variety. I do catch myself saying Mum now and then though. As for the STRUT vowel it’s my opinion that rural westerners tend toward a more back sound especially when being emphatic, while urban accents are more centralised but not necessarily lowered.

  20. rya says:

    note: the Canadian accent especially from Ontario west to BC is probably the most homogenous dialect in the world of any language, and the subtle differences between local/rural accents and urban/general accents, as well as what little regional variation there is, go unnoticed by most people, Canadian or foreign alike.

    • Roslyn Ross says:

      I did not see your comment before I replied above but I made a similar point. However, Canada is not alone for the Australian accent is the same across the continent, a land mass the same size as the continental US.

      Perhaps the biggest influence on Canada though has been the American accent. I first visited Canada in the early 70′s – Vancouver, Alberta, Montreal, Quebec City and Calgary and would agree with your comment then. However, I lived in Vancouver about five years ago and it was very, very clear then that the BC accent, particularly in Vancouver, was different and very, very American.

      The homogenous nature of the Australian accent has been easier to maintain because we don’t share any close borders with anyone, let alone another English speaking nation. New Zealand is an interesting example because that accent has changed dramatically in the past decade or two. It would be interesting to know why. If you look at NZ television news and programmes prior to say the 90′s the Australian and NZ accents were quite similar. No longer. The NZ accent has in fact become extremely pronounced and distinctive and utterly unlike anything spoken in Australia or probably anywhere else in the English speaking world. Although there are similarities to the South Africans and some English dialects.

      Replacing ‘i’ and ‘a’ with the sound ‘e’ and vice versa is the most distinctive where apple becomes epple; six becomes sex and deck becomes dick ….

      But modern communications have gone a long way toward diminishing accent differences and therefore helping all of us English speakers to understand each other. And with threads like this, American changes to their spelling aside, we all talk the same language and we all understand each other pretty much.

      • Glen says:

        I won’t dispute your observation that the Vancouver accent is “very, very American”, since that was your experience. It’s not my experience though, as someone born in Vancouver and having lived here most of my 65-year life. I would agree with rya about the homogeneity of English from Ontario (except maybe the Ottawa valley, which I’m not familiar with) westward to BC. I do detect something distinctive in the speech of many Albertans, but it’s subtle.

        Btw it’s common for Canadians of my generation to say “mum”, but the younger ones say “mom”, I’m sure from the American influence.

        • Roslyn Ross says:

          If you were born and brought up in Vancouver I am sure you ‘hear’ the accent differently. Having lived in nearly a dozen countries around the world and travelled constantly for nearly 30 years there is something of which I became aware long ago – you don’t ‘hear’ your own accent.

          In an airport I know who is Australian because they do not have an accent! Of course they do, but I don’t hear it. Just as you would not hear the Vancouver accent in particular.

          I think Canada is a lot like Australia when it comes to accent – fairly homogenous – with slight differences sometimes. Having spent time in Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto I could not perceive too much difference between them and a Vancouver accent but then someone visiting Australia would not pick up the very slight differences between Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide…and they are slight.

          The Canadian accent is very American, and one presumes it did not happen the other way. The major difference, so as not to be in error, Canadians don’t like being taken for Americans just as New Zealanders don’t like being taken for Australians – although the ‘bigger’ country doesn’t care – is the ‘out’ sound, which is clearly Scottish in origin, but which has remained in the Canadian accent. Wait until they say ‘about’ and catch the ‘out’ sound and you generally know if you have a Canadian. Although even this distinction has been diluted in the past 20 years and with the American accent so pervasive through radio and television, may well disappear anyway.

          Accents, like language evolve. I always find it interesting listening to old – 30′s, 40′s – radio and television programmes where the American accent is much less pronounced and quite English. Ditto for Australia, Canada and New Zealand. And then it all began to change.

          The NZ accent is interesting though because now it is quite distinctive and very ‘hard’ and strong where the apples becomes epple and sex becomes six etc., in ways simply not heard twenty years ago. Why the change it is hard to say, but change it has, so that now it has more in common with the South African accent than the Australian.

          Given the number of Kiwis in Australia however, should they return, the accent may well change back to a variation of Australian.

          One of the more interesting ‘accent’ impacts, and for Australians as ‘ex-colonials’ satisfying, has been the Australianisation of the general English accent which, the experts deduce, comes from two generations of British school-children brought up on Australian television soaps!

          Ironic really. The British fear was the Americanisation of the English accent and that did not happen. Instead it was the Australian accent which prevailed. My guess is that is the case because of the connections for the Australian accent must in origin be a combination of Scottish, Irish and the numerous English dialects given that was our original immigrant base for the nation.

          The introduction, like Canada and the US, of dozens of different nationalities from the mid 1800′s has no doubt done the rest of the work although the Australian accent of today is different, as I said earlier, to that of forty years ago.

          The only constant in life is change.

  21. HypnoPants says:

    Hello. In my part of America, ‘mom’ is most common. My mum is Australian, so I switch between calling her mum and mom. I’ve never heard mam, however, I was reading a book last week and two of the characters were brother and sister from Wales. They used mam.

    (the book was Clockwork Princess, the third book in The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare. It’s fantastic: you should go check it out. I suggest you start with the first book, though.)

  22. Elisha says:

    That’s right! I live in Manchester and some of my family live in Sheffield and we say ‘mam’ instead of mum. But me dad is from down near london and he say’s ‘mum’. But when I go to America for me holidays they all say ‘mom’ and when I say ‘mam’ they got confused…

  23. PJ says:

    Interesting observations- I agree that “mum” (in a London accent) is not too different from “mam” (in a northern English accent), and “mom” (in an American accent)…

    A possible spanner in the works is the East Midlands (at least certainly in Nottingham), where we use “mum”, but pronounced in a *northern* manner, i.e. rhyming with “plum” spoken in a northern accent. This sounds nothing like any of the above.

    …and the already mentioned West Midlands “mom”, promounced to rhyme with “tom”, which sounds different again.

  24. Rachel says:

    I always thought they were just different ways of writing/pronouncing the same word. I mean, they all have the same meaning, they all look reasonably similar…

    • Roslyn Ross says:

      The interesting thing is the spelling. Given that both the US and South Africa use ‘mom’ there is a fair bet that the word has derived from Dutch or Nederlands given the preponderance of Dutch settlers in both countries. Australia, NZ and Britain in the main use mum so one assumes that is an English derivation. The Americans have worked hard a couple of times in their history to ‘remove’ traces of their English connections and despite changing spelling, they were rather stuck with the English language. They do all have the same meaning but why some do mum and others do mom was the original question.

      • dw says:

        They’re just different ways of transcribing a very similar sound. “Mom”, in most North American accents, suggests an open back vowel which, particularly before a nasal, may be phonetically close to the STRUT vowel. I very much doubt that Dutch has anything to do with it.

        • Roslyn Ross says:

          Given the fact that South Africa and the US both use Mom and their accents are nothing alike even if you trawl through the various American accents and the various South African accents, the common factor in both instances is a high number of Dutch immigrants.
          Given that countries which use Mum, Australia, NZ, etc., did not have the Dutch influence is another indication.
          I suspect the Canadians got Mom from the US and probably did not start out that way unless they had high levels of Dutch settlers.
          And given the variety of accents in the US where Mom is spelled Mom but pronounced very differently, it’s a good chance there is a common cause. At this point the Dutch factor leads the way from what I can see. If it were about phonetics one would expect some variety of spelling.

        • dw says:

          More likely to be coincidence. As is pointed out above, Birmingham accent in England also has “Mom” (which there signifies a rounded not-fully-open back vowel). Pretty sure there’s no Dutch influence there.

        • Roslyn Ross says:

          Don’t be so sure. England had successive waves of Dutch settlers throughout its history. I don’t know but perhaps Birmingham had more than others, or rather, the percentage was high enough, as opposed to London, to influence accent. Easily researched I am sure.

        • dw says:

          I grew up in Birmingham and am reasonably familiar with its history. I’ve never heard or seen anything to indicate that Birmingham or the surrounding area had any kind of unusual Dutch influence.

        • Roslyn Ross says:

          The English language has been evolving for thousands of years. Words or spelling we use today may be centuries old. There were two substantial waves of Dutch immigrants to England – one in the 12th century and another in the 16th century. Links between the Netherlands, particularly Flanders, have been strong throughout England’s history and this could certainly explain if there is a Dutch connection, and I say if, why a word like Mom appears in some places and not others. Many of the Flemish immigrants settled in the north although the largest groups were in London and Scotland.

        • dw says:

          I’m not saying it’s totally impossible — just that Ockham’s Razor suggests otherwise :)

        • Roslyn Ross says:

          I am not saying it is either – not sure Occam’s Razor applies to language in quite the same way. Or rather, it could be applied on many counts. I perceive the spelling of a word which is used in two English speaking nations with a strong Dutch settler influence and in a part of Britain with long historical connections to Flanders where the language is Nederlands and not found in other English speaking nations which did not have a strong Dutch settler influence.
          Then again we could both be right and your ‘back vowel’ may be of Dutch origin.

  25. Kevin Hart says:

    It occurs to me that the word “Mammy” could easily have originated from the word mammary glands (Breasts) as the woman would be feeding the infant thus mammying.

    • Roslyn Ross says:

      It could also have come from African slaves who were often wet-nurses and nannies. The term mammy is found amongst African Americans. A lot of the American slaves came from Angola – a place where I lived for four years – and the Portugese word for mother is – mamae.

    • dw says:

      Words like “mom” or “mam” are linguistic universals — for example, the Mandarin Chinese for “mother” is “ma”. They are usually among the first language-like sounds made by babies.

  26. Gary H says:

    I grew up using Mam (north east england) and never heard Mum used in the region until post-2000 when aspiring middle class mothers encouraged their children to do so.

  27. J says:

    they are all and have always been the same words but different spellings, that is so obvious I cant believe someone wrote about it

    • Roslyn Ross says:

      Yes they all derive from the word for mother in English but the reason someone wrote about it is because most English speaking cultures use mum and some like the US and South Africa use mom. The curiosity was about why?

      My view is that the South Africans and Americans got mom from Dutch and the others got mum from the English.

      • Derek Davies says:

        In Wales we neither say Mum or M0mWe call our mother Mam.In fact in Welsh it’s pronounced Mamgi.

        • Roslyn Ross says:

          Can this or does this derive from the Welsh word for mother?

        • Derek Davies says:

          So sorry, We do say m but I was miss informed and the word Mangi not Mamgi means Grandmother and not Mam. Still, its great to know that we are so diverse around the world . Words are spoken so differently, but with the same meaning!

  28. Charlotte says:

    Here in Birmingham, UK everyone seems to spell it as “Mom”, which made me wonder if that’s where the word originated, or if there’s another reason for why this is the case, and why it was followed by Americans.

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