When I googled stepmother treatment, I found that it was mainly used in India to refer to neglect, disregard or inattention. Most of the other non-Indian links talked about the literal treatment by the relative.

Does this phrase/idiom belong only to Indian English? In India, stepmothers carry this stereotype of being vile women, by the way.

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    I think this is Not Constructive. Obviously Anglophones are not unique in being aware that stepmothers might not always be as solicitous of their adopted as their natural children. Since the word "stepmother" exists, it stands to reason some people will use it negatively. Feb 22 '13 at 17:46
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    How is this not constructive? Shyam is asking whether this idiom is limited to Indian English. Certainly I have not encountered in British English.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 22 '13 at 18:09
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    @Colin Fine: It's NC because I find no evidence to suggest that stepmother treatment is any more or less common in any particular Anglophone nation, and I can't see that a handful of people here on ELU saying "I'm from X and I do/don't hear it often" would be particularly informative. We can all guess what it means - it's pointless even speculating whether Indians are actually more likely to use it. Feb 22 '13 at 19:29
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    @FumbleFingers Hmm, someone asks if a certain idiom is common, and you say that this question is "not constructive" because you believe the answer is "yes"? So if the answer was "no" would you consider it a valid question? Your position presupposes that the poster knew the answer before he posted the question. If we disallow all questions to which the answer is "yes", then the site becomes superfluous, as the only possible answer is "no". We could simply have a single page that says, "No".
    – Jay
    Feb 6 '15 at 19:13
  • @Jay: My original link misleadingly claimed 273 written instances of the expression. This one (specifically excluding "stepmother's treatment", which is almost always in "literal" contexts) is more precise, with a claimed 65 results (actually only 35 if you scroll through them). Given the first seven of those results are all for the same 1837 text, I would say this expression has little or no "currency" anywhere. Feb 8 '15 at 13:40

Here in the US it is "foster parent treatment" that is more prevalent. It is very common for foster parents to treat their bilogical children differently than their "income" children. With such a high divorce rate here in the US, practically everyone is a stepmother nowadays.


If you mean that in India it is a common, well-understood idiom meaning neglectful treatment, then no, in America it does not have any such well-established meaning. However, stepmothers get a pretty bad rap here in America too, so if you used it in a sentence, "I really got the stepmother treatment from my boss" or some such, I think people would get the idea. The phrase "wicked stepmother" is so commonly used in fairy tales that it is something of an idiom.

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    Funny you mentioned fairy tales – I thought of Cinderella as soon as I read the question. "Cinderella treatment" is sometimes used to express neglect, but often with a redemptive happy ending, as in this example.
    – J.R.
    Feb 22 '13 at 23:23
  • Relevant TV Tropes entry: Wicked Stepmother Apr 11 '15 at 5:18

In Indian English, the word/phrase stepmotherly, with its variants step-motherly, and step motherly is so pervasive, that I initially thought that it was a part of BrE.

The word/phrase's etymology probably comes from the Hindi phrase 'Sauteli Ma', which means stepmother, and is commonly used in the language to denote an uncaring or oppressive treatment. There is a quote from the well known Indian film Sholay - "Main mausi hoon, sauteli ma nahin", which translates to "I am an (maternal) aunt, not a step mother".


Not all step mother's are bad, so the words/phrase do not make any sense in any country as lots of good families with step moms exists and the word " step mother treatment" got its popularly negative meaning/concept through movies & tales that spiced up it's stories.

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    You should try to include some content directly answering the given question which was about whether the term “stepmother treatment” is unique to Indian English. Feb 7 '21 at 23:29

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