Mama, momma, mom, etc

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I was recently discussing various words for "mother," and it occurred to me that words/spellings like mama, momma, mom, ma, and mamma have different connotations to me.

MW11 lists them all as synonyms or spelling variants, and sometimes I don't especially notice any difference between them. But if I'm paying close attention, I expect them to be used by different kinds of people. (Especially in prose fiction; in speech, I can't tell the difference between the "mama" variants.)

I think the connotations are more obvious with other variations; for example, not many adults use "mommy" except when talking to small kids; terms from other languages ("amma," "mère," "maman," "madre," etc), when used in English prose, also have particular connotations; "mammy" has very specific connotations in the US; "mum" and "mummy" and "mam" and "mater" are mostly British; etc.

But I think even for the quasi-synonymous group of American English terms I listed in the first paragraph above, the connotations vary by person, at least to some degree; for example, I've seen a story's narrator indicate that "mom" is a word used only by fairly young people, which doesn't match my experience.

So I'm curious: what different connotations, if any, do these words (and others like them) have for you? Are the connotations mostly about age, about class, about geographical region, about culture? Or is there no particular pattern?

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This page contains a single entry by Jed published on May 10, 2009 3:19 PM.

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