What I mean is in English, the form of address used for men we are not familiar with is "sir", whatever their age (technically, "master" is sometimes used for males under 25 years old, but this tends to be rarer than some centuries ago). At the opposite, there are two forms of address used for women we are not familiar with: "madam/ma'am" which is used for older females, and "miss", which is used for females under 25 years old ("miss" is not considered semi-obsolete as "master").

In English too, all men are referred as "Mister/Mr.", and women are either referred as "Miss" or "Mrs.", one is for unmarried women, the other for married women (technically, there is "Ms.", which is neutral) (all those titles come from the semi-obsolete word "mistress").

In comparison, in French (my native language), we say Monsieur for adult men, Madame for adult women, and Mademoiselle for females under 25 years old and/or unmarried women (technically, Mondamoiseau is an extremely rare, and even dated title used for males under 25 years old and/or celibate men).

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    What is the linguistic scope of your question? Are you limiting your question to what linguistic and social factors apply to English, to English and French, to English and other European languages? Or are you asking about whether similar usage is true across languages generally? Jun 29, 2022 at 19:27
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    Miss, mademoiselle and mondamoiseau are not for “celibate (wo)men” – they’re for unmarried people. Celibate in English does not mean the same as célibataire in French – it means someone who chooses to abstain from having sex. And the cutoff for the master/sir distinction is not 25 years of age but whether you’re seen as the head of the house or equivalent (sir) or the progeny of the head of the house or equivalent (master). Jun 29, 2022 at 21:32
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    This is mostly a social question rather than a linguistic one. I suspect that the historical answer is that it was important to know whose property a female was, and more particularly whether the "owner" was a husband or not.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 29, 2022 at 22:00
  • To add to Colin's comment, I am certainly not a medieval historian, but I know that a lot of medieval law codes distinguish between married and unmarried women. Cf. the Carta de Logu of Sardinia, which is sometimes praised as an exception for treating married and unmarried women the same way.
    – Sam
    Jun 30, 2022 at 0:00
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    The questionaire supposes that the status quo in English shows a tendency which might generalize, perhaps universally and they might expect that showing it universal and proving it universal will be two sides of the same answer. As such it may be too broad, while the initial example is too weak to signal a trend. That's a methodological problem, relying on annecdotal rather than robust empirical evidence. It is yet stronger than asking more generally why i. politeness may be a distinguished feature ii. to be distinguished on the base of gender, iii. and / or vice-versa.
    – vectory
    Jun 30, 2022 at 13:28


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