Plus ça change

A Doonesbury cartoon reprinted in Doonesbury Dossier: The Reagan Years (1984):

Reproduced here without political comment. But one brief linguistic note.

Ronald Reagan famously addressed his wife Nancy as Mommy — a well-attested usage in which one parent addresses the other by a term their children use. From OED3 (Dec. 2002) on this use of mother:

colloq. and regional. Used by a father to address or refer to the mother of his children. [first cite 1855 Dickens Little Dorrit]

The entry offers examples from husband to wife and vice versa:

1970 P. Carlon Souvenir:   Don’t you loathe the way old folks call each other Mother and Dad?

2008 D. Sharp Mama does Time: ‘I’ll be back for you in a couple of hours, Mother.’ ‘I’ll be right here, Father.’

The usage is not only colloquial and regional, but also, I think, age-graded (I don’t think it’s ever been used by young parents to one another), now rather old-fashioned, and class-marked (rarely used by upper-middle-class and upper-class speakers).

One Response to “Plus ça change”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Luc Baronian on Facebook:

    I hate to disagree, but we actually used it quite a bit as new parents (in private only); perhaps tongue-in-cheek, but I think it was a subconscious way of marking our new status as parents.

    Ah, a creative use of the conventions.

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