People are saying that Mom is the correct spelling and that it's not American, while others are saying it's Mum and that Mom is American.
So which is the correct spelling for the UK?
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Both spellings are correct and derive from mommy and mummy. According to Ngram, Mom/mom is the more common spelling in AmE, while Mum/mum is more common in BrE:
- 1867, American English, perhaps a shortening of mommy; also see mamma. Adjectival phrase mom and pop dates from 1951.
- pet word for "mother," 1823, short for mummy (see mamma). In British sociology, used from 1957 in reference to "the working class mother as an influence in the lives of her children." Also sometimes a vulgar corruption of madam.
It is worth considering also the related term Mam/mam:
(informal and colloquial) Diminutive of mother.
Possibly either conserved from or influenced by earlier Brythonic language.
We have several informal words for “mother” in English: mum (heard in much of England), mom (heard in much of America), and mam (heard in Ireland and Northern England). But are these actually different words, or are they just, in some sense, the same word?
Although “mum,” “mam,” and “mom” read differently, they’re often pronounced in a very similar way. Here’s a comparison of three different dialects, and their “mom” pronunciations (don’t worry if you aren’t proficient in IPA — I’ll explain after):
London: “mum” — [mɐm]
General American: “mom” — [mɑm]
Manchester, UK: “mam” — [mam]
Whether you understand the IPA symbols above or not, the point is that in these three dialects, the words are quite close in pronunciation. To be fair, there are some regions where this is not the case. In the Western US, for example, mom is often more clearly “mawm.”
Mom is an intimate, personal word, a nickname, though a common one. Such words have no standard spellings, because they are not standards; they are personal. Everybody pronounces Mom or Ma or Muv or Mama or Momma or Mo or Muh -- or whatever -- their own way. That's before they learn there is any spelling.
And how often do you write words like that? Not nearly as often as you say them. So there are no standard spellings because there is no standard intimacy. At least not in writing.
Executive Summary: Spell it any way you like; it's your word.
Warning: Strong text
I quote the well-respected English poet, Philip Larkin, from This Be The Verse:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
I heard this recited on a BBC radio broadcast in the ’70s or ’80s (much to the consternation of my late mother-in-law). I can’t find a precise reference to the original programme, but I believe the poem was included in a more recent broadcast of his poems, so you could say that this establishes ‘mum’ as BBC English as well as literary English.
And as Wikipedia and everyone this side of the Atlantic knows, ‘Mum’ has the royal imprimatur: Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was known familiarly in Britain as “The Queen Mum”:
Popularly, she became the “Queen Mother” or the “Queen Mum”.
And for those who may ask whether this usage persists into the internet age, there is Mumsnet, which claims to be:
“the UK’s most popular parenting website”
So in Britain, albeit with regional variations, mum’s the word, used by poet, prince and parent. (And me.)
Today 'mum' is certainly the correct spelling of the word in the UK.
Oxford dictionaries confirm that 'mom' is a spelling pertaining to North America:
North American term for mum
While Cambridge concur that 'mom' is an American spelling of the equivalent 'mum': -
/mɒm/ us /mɑːm/ US informal UK mum
The difference in spelling may be cultural
...we know that America had officially become a "new nation" in 1776 so it seems that "mum" and "mom" are a cultural difference between the two countries.
Or Simply Phonetic:
One possible reason for the difference between the ‘o’ and ‘u’ of the more common ‘mom’ and ‘mum’ may be the Great Vowel Shift (GVS)...a major change in pronunciation in England...Vowel sounds changed in the GVS from 1350 and 1700 so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that America, as a new nation, got the tail end of the shift in pronunciation.
But 'mum' is the correct spelling in the UK, and 'mom' is recognised as an American word.
This wasn't always the case however. In Middle English Circa 1400s words were spoken as they were pronounced, the word 'mome' was used to mean mother, and was likely pronounced /moːm/.
The same source quoted above cites Etymonline when referring to both mom and mum as being derived from the word 'mamma'
...diminutives of ‘mother’ in English—such as ‘mom’, which uses the central nearly open vowel /ɒ/, and ‘mum’, which uses the back open-mid vowel /ʌ/—, are offshoots from ‘mamma’ which date back to the 1570s.
Having checked the source myself, this is what they have to say on the matter, regarding the noun mamma, and early English usage of 'mom' and 'mum':
Its late appearance in English is curious, but Middle English had mome (mid-13c.) "an aunt; an old woman," also an affectionate term of address for an older woman. In educated usage, the stress is always on the last syllable. In terms of recorded usage of related words in English, mama is from 1707, mum is from 1823, mummy in this sense from 1839, mommy 1844, momma 1852, and mom 1867.
So in fact both 'mom' and 'mum' are words derived from the word 'mamma' with early recorded usage back in the 1570s in England.
It's interesting to note also that there are regional differences across the UK, in the Midlands the word 'mom' is sometimes used still (owing to dialectical inflection) while in Northern Ireland 'mam' is in popular usage, and recognized as an informal word for 'mother', with origins dating back to the 16th century.
My comments are from my own experience. Both my husband and I served in the British Army, so between us we met a lot of people over the last forty years. We have never heard the word mum/mummy unless it was with someone making a joke.
Mom not sure from where, but I associate it with the USA. I have lots of aunts and cousins there and they do not use this form, but I cannot say if it's where I have heard it on visits. My husband is Scottish while I am Welsh from both Welsh and Scottish families.
We say Mam on both sides, though we often read Ma in the Scottish comics. (The Broons and Oou Wullie).