Fräulein is the diminutive form of Frau, which was previously reserved only for married women. Frau is in origin the equivalent of "My lady" or "Madam", a form of address of a noblewoman. But by an ongoing process of devaluation of honorifics, it came to be used as the unmarked term for "woman" by about 1800. Therefore, Fräulein came to be interpreted as expressing a "diminutive of woman", as it were, implying that a Fräulein is not-quite-a-woman. By the 1960s, this came to be seen as patronising by proponents of feminism, partly because there is no equivalent male diminutive, and during the 1970s and 1980s, the term Fräulein became nearly taboo in urban and official settings, while it remained an unmarked standard in many rural areas. It is seen as sexist by modern feminists.
This process was somewhat problematic, at least during the 1970s to 1980s, since many unmarried women of the older generation insisted on Fräulein as a term of distinction, respecting their status, and took the address of Frau as offensive or suggestive of extra-marital sexual experience.
From the 1970s, Fräulein was used less often, and it was banned from official use in West Germany in 1972 by the Minister of the Interior. Nevertheless, the word, as a title of address and in other uses, continues to be used, albeit in much reduced frequency.
Nowadays, style guides and dictionaries recommend that all women be addressed as Frau regardless of marital status, particularly in formal situations. A newsletter published on the website of the German dictionary Duden in 2002, for instance, noted that women should only be addressed as Fräulein when they specifically request this form of address.
One area in which the word still sees wide use is in the form of an admonishing address towards girls until about their mid-teens, usually by a parent.
- Okamura Saburo, 'Das „Fräuleinwunder“ im Jahre 2006' (the "Fräuleinwunder" of 2006 with reference to the football fan girls, in relation to the history of the earlier "Fräuleinwunder", German research report)
- Duden (6 March 2002). "Frau und Fräulein in der Anrede". Archived from the original on 12 October 2007. Retrieved 3 November 2007.
Dass es heutzutage als einigermaßen veraltet gilt, eine junge Frau als Fräulein anzusprechen, dürfte sich inzwischen bis zu den verstocktesten Gleichberechtigungsmuffeln herumgesprochen haben. Bei der Anrede für eine erwachsene Frau sollte man immer Frau wählen, und zwar unabhängig von Alter und Familienstand. Fräulein ist nur dann noch angemessen, wenn sich die angesprochene Frau diese Anrede selbst wünscht. Auch in Cafés und Restaurants sollte auf diese Titulierung lieber verzichtet werden. Statt Fräulein, könnten Sie mir bitte die Rechnung bringen? genügt auch ein einfaches Entschuldigung, könnten Sie mir bitte die Rechnung bringen? (That nowadays it is considered fairly outdated to address a young woman as Fräulein should have reached even the most obdurate and sulky opponent of equal status. When addressing a grown woman one should always choose Frau, irrespective of age and marital status. Fräulein is only appropriate when the addressed women wishes this form of address. In cafes and restaurants it is also better to forgo this form of address. Instead of "Fräulein, could you please bring me the bill?", a simple "Excuse me, could you please bring me the bill?" is sufficient)
- Okamura Saburo (2006). "Das Fräulein ist tot! Es lebe das Fräulein! - Fräulein im Archiv der Süddeutschen Zeitung (1994–2005)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 August 2011. Retrieved 26 December 2010.
Even into the 1970s, honorific titles in German included Fräulein for unmarried women, but in 1972, the Minister of the Interior banned it from official use; since then, it has largely disappeared from everyday speech as well.
- Novy, Beatrix (16 February 2021). "Vor 50 Jahren: Die Anrede "Fräulein" wurde abgeschafft". Deutschlandfunk (in German). Retrieved 25 March 2021.
- Exeter University Faculty. "Exeter University Beginners' German". Retrieved 29 September 2006.
The formal use of Fräulein to translate "Miss" is outdated and should be avoided, not least because the literal translation of Fräulein is "little woman"! You should instead use Frau.
- Oxford Dictionary. "Writing Letters in German". Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 5 February 2004. Retrieved 26 December 2010.
Note that in German all women are addressed as Frau (the equivalent of both Mrs and Ms) in formal and business letters.
- "Duden | Fräulein | Rechtschreibung, Bedeutung, Definition, Herkunft".