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Madam, Madame, ma'am, or Mme is a title for a woman. It is derived from the French madame (see different meanings of madame here), the equivalent of Mrs. or Ms., and literally signifying "my lady." The plural of madam in this sense is mesdames. The French madame is in turn derived from the Latin mea domina meaning 'my mistress' of the home (domus). "Madam" may also refer to a woman who runs a brothel.
Use as a form of address
Madam is used in direct address, without the woman's name, especially to address whose name is not known: May I help you, madam? In the United States and in Canada, "ma'am" is usually used. The male equivalent is sir. When addressing a letter to the holder of a particular position (for example, the editor of the Letters to the Editor column in a newspaper) without knowing the name nor sex of the addressee, it is common to address the letter with "Dear Sir or Madam".
In English-speaking countries, the wife of a foreign dignitary is called Madame (note final 'e') in direct address and formal correspondence, rather than the equivalent word in the person's native language (Señora, Frau etc.).
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, with the pronunciation as in "ham" and not as in "chum" or "farm."
Usage of "Ma'am" is common in the United States and in Western Canada. In the past the term was in theory to be used only for married women, but it has become common courtesy to use this term for all adult women, rather than to attempt to presume a marital status based on age or other appearances. The term formerly in common usage for unmarried women, "Miss," is now usually reserved only for children and young ladies of school age, for extremely formal usage in which the woman's marital status is known, or if the woman in question has made it known that that she prefers said term.
In Singapore and Malaysia, Chinese women retain their maiden name after marriage, and some choose to be addressed in English as "Madam" instead of "Mrs" to indicate this.
Madam is also used as the equivalent of Mister (Mr) in composed titles, such as Madam Justice, Madam Speaker, Madam President. In the US, most of these titles are usually used only in direct address, without the woman's last name: one would say President Smith, not Madam President Smith, even if one would otherwise address her as 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, Madam Speaker Boothroyd, or Miss Boothroyd.
However, the title Madam Justice is used in third-person reference: Madam Justice Louise Arbour, Madam Justice Arbour.
In the United States Supreme Court, in the Canada Supreme Court, and the superior courts of Australia, rather than adopting the title Madam Justice for female justices, the title Mr 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. 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, District Judges are referred to as either Madam or Ma'am.
"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. Although the correct pronunciation is to rhyme the word with 'ham', the same as if addressing the Queen, female officers are still generally addressed as Ma'am rhyming with 'farm' in practice.
In the United States Armed Forces and in the Canadian Armed Forces, "ma'am" is used to address female commissioned officers and Warrant Officers. U.S. Marine recruits and U.S. Air Force trainees also address female non-commissioned officers as "ma'am."