Amah (occupation)

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An amah or ayah (simplified Chinese: 阿嬷; traditional Chinese: 阿嬤; pinyin: ā mó, Portuguese: ama, German: Amme, Medieval Latin: amma; or ayah Hindi: āyā, Portuguese: aia, Latin: avia, Tagalog: yaya) is a girl or woman employed by a family to clean and look after children etc.

Role[edit]

It is a domestic servant role which combines functions of maid and nanny. The term, resembling the pronunciation for "mother", is considered as polite and respectful in the Chinese language when it is used to refer to a maid. They may often be required by employers to wear a uniform.

Etymology[edit]

This word is common in East Asia and India (although ayah is a more common variant in India). Since the mid-1990s, it has become more politically correct to call such a person a 'helper' rather than a maid or ayah. In Taiwan and China, amah may even refer to any old lady in general. Similar term in the same context includes ah-yee (Aunt), yee-yee (aunt), or jie-jie (elder sister).

History[edit]

During the Tang dynasty in China, the word Amah was used as an informal and poetic title for the Taoist goddess, the Queen Mother of the West.

In English literature[edit]

Amah and ayah have been adopted as loanwords into the English language:

She never remembered seeing familiarly anything but the dark faces of her Ayah and the other native servants, and as they always obeyed her and gave her her own way in everything, because the Mem Sahib [her mother] would be angry if she was disturbed by her crying, by the time she was six years old she was as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived.
When Tony and his sister arrived they wanted to go straight to the pond, but their ayah said they must take a sharp walk first, and as she said this she glanced at the time-board to see when the Gardens closed that night.

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