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Does Fräulein imply that the woman being addressed is not fully a Frau? Does it imply a lower class status?

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Sorry not to answer the question… but this link sheds some light on the surrounding issues! BBC News feature on a French town banning the word for 'Miss' –  Edd Turner Jan 17 '12 at 12:34

10 Answers 10

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Fräulein is a diminutive ('Verniedlichungsform') of Frau.

Diminution is considered an intimate act, used a lot with nicknames couples give each other (Häschen, Mäuschen, Bienchen, Bärchen) or for "lovely little beings" like children and pets. So using Fräulein has a touch of intimacy not convenient to many women.

Addressing an unkown woman as Fräulein can be considered as impolite as using Du without having been offered it. The word Fräulein was particularly used to call waitresses and other female assistance in service jobs (not necessarily a bad status, even a female manager of an hotel would be a Fräulein).

Etymology of the word

Until the beginning of the 19th century the word Frau was only used for royal women, a Fräulein was their female child. Within the 19th century the word meaning changed and became used for women having a profession. This usually ended with marriage (in some cases, e.g. female teachers, you had to be unmarried to work). This indicated that a Fräulein was unmarried and "free to go". This part of the name didn't change even when getting very old as long as you didn't marry (and gave up the profession).

The usage of Fräulein is discouraged by the state since 1972 in Germany. In the same decade the feministic movement pointed out that using the diminutive form changes the gender of the word from female to neutrum, this can be considered equally to not acknowlidging the gender of a person but is felt by many as a philosophical question. Since most of the time diminutives are used to address pets and children, the conclusion that Fräulein are not seen as independent and self-determined beings can't be disproved.

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Recently meaning "45 years" here. –  user unknown Jun 4 '11 at 2:54
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"touch of intimacy"? If this were Wikipedia, I'd slap "original research" on it. Here, I call it speculation. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jun 15 '11 at 1:35
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I made a logical chain, is there something not clear for you or an assumption in the chain you'd like to discuss? –  Samuel Herzog Jun 15 '11 at 20:10
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Just as a warning for people reading this: This answer is just wrong. There is nothing intimate about calling someone „Fräulein Müller“. Also, as correct answers have pointed out, this used to be the correct way to address an unmarried woman. It is just not used anymore, for reasons that also have been pointed out. –  Carsten Schultz Sep 10 '13 at 10:14
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@CarstenSchultz Please give arguments for your comment, help to improve the answer and don't forget the bigger picture (we're talking about at least Germany, Austria and Switzerland and we are talking about the current point of language development) of the language. I know that using Fräulein was common, but it isn't anymore and I tried to lay out the reasons. Your phrasing implies absolute knowledge ('just wrong', 'nothing intimidating') but without argument it seems to be just biased. Thank you. –  Samuel Herzog Sep 16 '13 at 18:16

A major effort from feminist linguistics is achieving equality of men and women in spoken or written language. All terms that discriminate men and women should be avoided.

Fräulein (the diminutive of Frau) was especially criticized as it did not only discriminate in sex but also has a strong sexist association by the meaning of Fräulein being an unmarried woman. The use of Junggeselle for an unmarried man is used in a very different context and was never used when addressing someone. Therefore the use of Fräulein is strongly discouraged.

References:

Birgit Eickhoff: Gleichstellung von Frauen und Männern in der Sprache. Duden

Susanne Kippenberger: Hallo Fräulein! Der Tagesspiegel

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The "diminutive" is the important bit here: it's like calling a grown woman "girl" (or a man "Jungchen"). It implies you're not a full woman if you're no married. That's why it can be taken as offensive. And no, I don't blame "feminist linguistics", I blame waking up and realizing what we actually do say and what those words do and always did imply. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jun 4 '11 at 14:19
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When I was a kid there were some old unmarried ladies that would have been embarrased when not being called Fräulein. This has changed a lot since then. –  Takkat Jun 4 '11 at 14:29
    
So why do they still have two words for every profession? It's incredibly annoying/irritating to read/look at a piece/section of text/writing referring to the masculine/feminine version of a job title/profession –  adolf garlic Jun 16 '11 at 8:52
    
@adolfgarlic, well, feminists are protesting agains using masculinum forms of proffessions when describing women. Yes, in some countries they want the opposite, yes, in some countries they want both at the same time, no, you don't need to try to look up for deeper sense there. –  Lukasz Jan 14 at 12:56

'Fräulein' was mainly used for unmarried women, and therefore for very young women when in doubt. Not being married was often considered a failure, and even a female professor, 50 years old, could have been called 'Fräulein'.

"This is Fräulein Meier" is nearly equivalent of telling somebody "This is Mr. Müller. He isn't married yet." Independent from his social status as a professional person, independent from age, and from the person you're talking too, man or woman, adult or child, maybe interested in marrying somebody (Mr. Müller) or not.

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Could be useful for dating. How many times haven't we all... –  Cerberus Jun 4 '11 at 13:41
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Yes, of course it is very useful for dating, but it is asymetrical - mens weren't threatened like that, and those Fräuleins where not asked, whether they like to see this information leaked. And 3rd, often forgotten, it implicitly means for all women which were introduced as "Frau Schmitt": 'attention, she is married, belongs to somebody!', so not that helpful for dating for them. –  user unknown Jun 4 '11 at 14:06
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Oh, so then it would be an instrument against polygamy as well! I was joking. –  Cerberus Jun 4 '11 at 14:08
    
Depends on the perspective. For people who strongly prefer polygamy, it would be disclosing of useful information. –  user unknown Jun 16 '11 at 13:52
    
Hah, very true. I suppose she should have a chip built in that transmits her dating preferences through wifi. –  Cerberus Jun 16 '11 at 17:54

Yes, it absolutely is offensive. It is also not used at all anymore (except in some situations with small children).

It does not denote class status, it marks the difference between married or unmarried. (It may have denoted class status historically in the sense that a young woman of low class would have gotten no honorific at all, but be called by her first name, but then, an older woman of low class would not have gotten a respectful address, either, so I don't think that this is very relevant here.)

It is offensive and outdated today because:

  • It is a diminutive that does not exist in a male form at all and indicates that an unmarried woman is not a full adult while a married woman and an unmarried man are regardless of age and accomplishments.

  • It implies that it always has to be public information whether a woman is "available" or not.

  • Many women do not marry at all and still have careers and families, so this has felt more and more wrong. (The abolishment also had a lot to do with people calling unmarried mothers with children "Fräulein" in public to draw attention to their amorality.)

  • "Frau" is the equivalent of "Herr" and just means "woman" which makes it much clearer than in other languages that the married title does not have an inherent meaning of marriage, but of being adult, and that this is the analogous address.

Additional remark:

Another diminutive of Frau is Frauchen. "Frauchen" and "Herrchen" is used symmetrically in the sole context of pet owners.

"Der Hund vermisst sein Herrchen." means "The dog misses his (male) owner."

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nice additional remark! –  Takkat Jun 4 '11 at 9:46
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To view "Fräulein" as offensive is the hallmark of a fanatic and arguably misguided egalitarianism with little understanding for how things have evolved historically. "Mademoiselle", "signorina" and "señorita" are exactly the same as "Fräulein", and it wouldn't occur to people in those countries to find issue with that expression. (At least I hope!) –  Lumi Jun 4 '11 at 10:30
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@Lumi: You are of course entitled to think of German women as fanatic and misguided, and of history as a proof of the respectable treatment of unmarried women by chivalrous men, but I don't think that these personal opinions of you are relevant to this question. –  Phira Jun 4 '11 at 11:13
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@Greg Bacon: They don't imply anything about the age of the owner, I would expect an adult owner in a neutral sentence. Note that a diminutive indicates closeness (or condescension) primarily if you use it to address someone, this is very similar to the use of "du". The more I think of it, the more I am convinced that "Herrchen" and "Frauchen" is mostly used if implicitly the viewpoint of the dog is taken as in my example sentence. –  Phira Jun 4 '11 at 13:09
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It is not absolutely offensive. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jun 4 '11 at 14:05

I wouldn't say it's offensive. It's rather dated and rarely used. That's all.

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It depends whom you are addressing. Try to call Alice Schwarzer "Fräulein Schwarzer"! ;) –  splattne Jun 4 '11 at 9:39
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Miss Schwarzer is fundamentalist, I wouldn't call her at all. –  mbx Jun 4 '11 at 10:29
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It definitely depends on the way it's said and the context, but outside of friends and family, I'd almost always think that when someone addresses a women with Fräulein it's because he wants to make clear "who's the boss". It doesn't have any place outside verbal assault in modern German language. –  perdian Jun 4 '11 at 11:11
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@mbx: so, you'd rudely not greet her at all when you'd meet her at a social function? –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jun 4 '11 at 14:04
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Probably not. Either way she'd notice me as an enemy. –  mbx Jun 4 '11 at 15:16

The same tendency of avoiding to categorize by marital status is observed in English and French.

In French, the term mademoiselle is mostly used for addressing young children, rarely adults, though I still hear people of the baby-boomer generation use it for younger women. They just want to be polite, the meaning of not being married has somewhat disappeared from the "common" use of the word. The dictionaries mention this term is old-fashioned and better avoided nowadays. I've also seen the term madelle, which might be the equivalent of junggeselle, but the uptake of that neologism hasn't been great.

I've also been told by numerous Anglophones that Mrs is not to be used anymore in generic communications, as it refers to someone married, contrarely to Ms. There was this case where a nun received a letter from a public institution with Mrs on it and she was so upset that she sent an official complaint letter to the institution in question.

So yeah, I think it's just the language evolving with our culture, where marriage and religion is becoming less prominent.

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It should be noted that, while using "Fräulein" for (obviously) grown-up women can be taken as offensive, and is at least awkward (but can still be used in jest, if you know the recipient well enough)...

... addressing a girl that is obviously not an adult as "Frau" is quite awkward too. I don't expect any girl to be insulted (well, one can never know...) but don't be surprised if you garner some rather funny looks :D

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"Fräulein" is the German equivalent of "mademoiselle". As stated by others, it used to indicate marital status.

Modern feminist ideology, hugely successful in all Germanic countries, considers distinctions based on marital status politically incorrect. So there's been a cultural campaign to ban the expression from common usage.

As a result, a convenient and polite way to directly accost a young lady has been eliminated, so nowadays people have to resort to clumsy drop-ins like "Hallo!" or "Tschuldigung!", whereas you can still say "junger Mann" to accost a young man, typically as in "Junger Mann, könnten Sie mir mit dem Gepäck hlefen?"

The Wikipedia article on "Fräulein" has some good information.

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You can say "Junge Frau" as well. –  swegi Jun 4 '11 at 8:35
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"Oh, those evil feminists". I call bullshit. If there had ever(?) been a male equivalent of Fräulein, I'd concede your point. But there isn't and wasn't. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jun 4 '11 at 14:07
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@jae I fully agree and this is off-topic, but it might be of historic interest that there has been a male equivalent of mademoiselle in French (which tellingly fell out of use long ago). –  Phira Jun 14 '11 at 19:56

In the US, the preferred appellation is Ms. "Miss" sometimes implies "too young." In other contexts, "Mrs." is taken to be "too old." Ms. is ambiguous, and therefore preferred.

Perhaps there is a German equivalent of "Ms." Otherwise, in doubtful cases, I've been taught to use "Frau" rather than "Fräulein." Of the two, "Frau" appears less likely to be insulting.

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You could use "Fr." for Frau and Fräulein (instead of "Frl."), but the former would usually not be abbreviated (because of the negligible gain) and the latter is - at least in written language - all but completely out of use, so the point is a little moot. - But how do you pronounce "Ms."? You cannot circumvent this matter in spoken English, can you? –  Alexander Kosubek Sep 24 '12 at 11:59
    
you can: it's pronounced with a soft "s" at the ending. –  Steffen Roller Jun 17 at 2:21
    
@AlexanderKosubek: "Ms." is pronounced "Miz." –  Tom Au Jun 17 at 14:28

If the woman is young (max 30 years based on appearances) you can call her Fräulein! Depends on who you're calling. Also, women like to be considered younger than they are so as long as you don't use it on older women it shouldn't be a problem. Words aren't usually rude, depends on the people who are interpreting them!

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I would set that age limit to 20 based on appearances. –  fifaltra Jan 3 at 0:35
    
but only if she doesn't wear a wedding ring ;) –  Lukasz Jan 14 at 12:53

protected by Wrzlprmft Jan 12 at 9:10

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