AskDefine | Define amah

Dictionary Definition



1 a woman hired to suckle a child of someone else [syn: wet nurse, wet-nurse, wetnurse]
2 a female domestic [syn: maid, maidservant, housemaid]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. (In India etc) A woman employed to look after children
  2. (in China etc) A wet nurse; a maid

Alternative spellings

Extensive Definition

An amah (, Portuguese: ama,German: Amme, Medieval Latin: amma ; or ayah Hindi:āyā, Portuguese:aia, Latin:avia) is a girl or woman employed by a family to clean, look after children, etc. It is a domestic servant role that combines functions of maid and nanny.
This word is particularly common in East Asia and India (ayah, though, 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 Northern China, ayah may even refer to any old lady in general.
"Amah" is also the Mosuo term for mother, and is used in this way in Yang Erche Namu's memoir Leaving Mother Lake. The word "ammah" or "anmah" means "mother," and "ayah" has an identical meaning in Okinawan dialect. See Ryukyu Island for more information about Okinawa.

"Ayah" in English literature

Like many other terms other languages, "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.

See also

amah in Arabic: اماه

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abigail, au pair girl, ayah, betweenmaid, biddy, chambermaid, chaperon, companion, cook, dry nurse, duenna, femme de chambre, fille de chambre, gentlewoman, girl, handmaid, handmaiden, hired girl, housemaid, kitchenmaid, lady-help, lady-in-waiting, live-in maid, live-out maid, maid, maidservant, mammy, nanny, nurse, nursemaid, nurserymaid, parlormaid, scullery maid, servant girl, servitress, sitter, soubrette, tweeny, upstairs maid, waiting maid, wench, wet nurse
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