Questioning the translation of "Ayye" as "Ma'am" for bhikkhunis

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yes, I think it’s better!


Fascinating points, @TathaalokaBhikkhuni!

Based on what you are saying, it sounds like Thais are defining “monk” as someone with an official ordination status, kinda like a priest. This confuses me, because in both Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, monkhood doesn’t signify any official ordination status. A man can be a monk without being ordained to the priesthood (or diaconate), in which case he’s just as restricted from performing sacraments as a nun is. On the flip side, a man can be a priest/deacon without being a monk. Monasticism and higher ordination are unrelated in Christianity.

Elaborating a bit on the “political correctness” point — one explanation I’ve heard from Westerners who object to calling Bhikkhunis “nuns” is that nuns have low status in the Church, and said people think that calling a Bhikkhuni a “monk” grants her more dignity/equality (I think that is the argument that ven Dhammika was alluding to). But, as I just pointed out, Christian monks aren’t high status, either. Your Welsh example, where the abbot monk is a “nun” or something of the like, further demonstrates how there really isn’t any reason to think “monk” is more dignified than “nun.”

It’s interesting that Anglos settled on a Greek word for male monastics and a Latin word for female monastics. Out of curiosity, I checked and found out that French is similar to English in this regard – a “moine” is a male monastic, while “nonne” is a female monastic. You can also say “religieuse” or “soeur” (sister) for a female monastics as well, the latter of which also works in English (where sometimes “sister” is used in lieu of “nun” for non-cloistered women renunciants). French is the romance language that influenced English the most, fwiw.


You can also say “moniale” in French for a female monastic which is more related to the word “moine”—and is more common apparently than “nonne”.


Thanks for clarifying @sabbamitta. I wonder what respective words were used in the old Norman French language.


Closest I could get was Francien “monyalle” (MONIALE : Définition de MONIALE). The etymology of moine was a bit harder. Suffice to say, from the Latin monachus, to the French moine, there are a lot of possible intermediate paths the pronunciation could have taken.


For many modern people, to continue my example, if they hear “bhikkhu” they will either not understand it at all, or will misunderstand it. If they hear “mendicant”, they may or may not be familiar with it, but if they are, it conveys the meaning reasonably well.

Greetings, Banthe, I understand the reasons why you have chosen the word mendicant; however, I would like to point out to some shortcomings of the term:

  1. mendicant in English, mendicante in Italian, mendiant in French, mendigo in Spanish. All these words mean the same: “beggar”.
  2. What is the image that comes to my mind at the word “mendicant”?
    In Puerto Rico, where I live, the only mendicants are drug addicts. I drop my spare change into their paper cup so they can hurry faster to their next fix. In the States, there are also winos, mental patients, and in Boston, I met some very talented mendicant poets. In my native Sardinia, some fifty years ago, I remember mendicants similar to the ones I, later, saw in India: hungry, defeated, ashamed, guilt-ridden, depressed, afraid, over-reactive, muddle-headed, angry …
    This is the furthest from the radiant, benevolent, Bikkhunis and Bikkhus, I have met in real life, in the Suttas, and on Youtube.
  3. The word “monastics”, “monk”, “nun”, are fraught with problems, but are, in my opinion preferable to that of “mendicant”.
  4. What about “renunciant” or “mendicant monastic”?
    Thank you, Venerable Sujato, for your teachings and for Suttacentral.


Thank you, Ayya Tathaaloka, for the very illuminating posts about how Buddhist female monasticism intercepts with specific languages and cultures.
It is indeed true that:

and also in Portuguese “Monje” “Monja”.
However, if I may add to idiosyncrasies you already noted, in Italian and Spanish, the actual words that are used in daily life since the Middle Ages are different.

  1. In Italian nuns are called “Suora” and sometimes with the modern term “Sorella”, both words mean “sister”. Similarly In Spanish nuns are addressed as “Sora” or “Hermana”, meaning “sister”. The eception: the abbess of a convent is Called Madre, in both languages.
  2. So, in Italian and Spanish monks are addressed as “brothers”???
    They are always addressed as “Father”, “Padre” in both languages.


The images that you then describe are not those that would typically be associated with ‘mendicant’ in English. The fact that a certain word in language A is problematic in some respect or other doesn’t necessarily mean that its cognate in language B will be afflicted with the same problems.

‘Mendicant’ in English doesn’t belong in the same sociolinguistic register as its cognates in Southern European languages. Thus:

Neutral register: beggar
Formal register: mendicant
Vulgar register: scrounger, cadger, panhandler, etc.

Neutral register: mendicante
Formal register: ???
Vulgar register: accattone

In English it would be extremely unusual for drug addicts &c that you describe to be called ‘mendicants’, unless the writer was trying to be facetious. The term is hardly used at all outside of religious contexts, e.g., to Franciscan friars and suchlike.