Do you fondly recall the old days when the average Joe or Jane used the term “mother”? It was a matriarchal noun or verb of love and respect. It meant something. The word “mother” did not need to be trimmed down or casualized.
But then, with time, someone in high or low places decided that “mother” was too starchy, too formal, too elitized for our proletarian “keep it simple” culture. Caption writers at print publications throughout the land, usually as deadlines approached, began to howl “I need just a teensy weensy more space to say “First Mother Lands on Mars!” At which point editors replied, “Change mother to mom and give me the story NOW!”
I've done some research on this topic. History is fairly mute as to when and why “mother” was gradually outweighed by “mom” and its variants such as “mama,” “ma” and “mammy.” Al Jolson built a large chunk of his career by singing about “mammy.”
I found a list of 100 popular song titles containing “mother” or its derivatives. By far, “mama” was the favorite, especially in the country-western section. In contrast were most of the quotations spoken or written by authors, actors and politicians (both male and female). Their thoughts resounded with dignity, respect and love for mothers — as individuals as well as an honored segment of the human race.
If I'm not mistaken the trend to substitute “mom” for “mother” has ballooned over the past half century or so. No matter what the reasons have been, there's no need for a federal investigation. No laws have been broken.
Still, one or two of my word-use switches get flipped each time I see or hear “mom” being used when (in my benighted opinion) “mother” would have been more appropriate or effective. An example: throughout our troubled land each year, millions of women (as well as many men) march or demonstrate in support of, or in protest against, laws and practices they deem worthy of First Amendment action.
In so many instances, the placards and banners say “Moms for This Cause!” or “Moms Fighting to End That Program!” Whatever the issue at hand, these citizens are usually serious, dedicated people. My reaction is almost always “Wouldn’t the use of “MOTHERS” instead of “MOMS” give an added touch of class and credibility to the marchers as they went along?
Maybe so, maybe not. Take your pick. I will now shut the hell up.
Except for a few thoughts on whether mom will one day “die” or merely “pass away.” So here we go into the world of euphemisms.
A euphemism is a way to say something unpleasant but in a nicer way. The term comes from a Greek spirit known as Euphemia, or “words of positivity.” The euphemism is one of the most welcome and delightful language tools ever invented. You and I use them all the time, even though we may not realize it. If you don't think so, just boot up your Google browser. The website “Writing English — Proofreading” lists dozens of euphemisms you may recognize.
Or just open almost any newspaper and go to the obituary pages. There, the odds are about 20 to 1 against learning that someone has kicked the bucket, bought the farm, met the Man in the Red Night Shirt, gave up the ghost or breathed her last. Instead, you’ll probably see that Harry, Sally, Judge Himmelspeck, or whoever, has “passed away” or “passed on.”
Which is perfectly understandable. We all live in the oncoming shadow of death, so why mention that fact as we write our last words about Harry, Sally or any other valued loved one?
Final thought: What I don’t understand is what I had in mind when I began this wandering, turgid piece of writing. Had she been forced to read it, my long-dead Mom (who was a nifty writer) would have disowned me.