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Tu sais, ici tout le monde se connaît. Et tu ne passes pas un entretien d'embauche. Ne t'avise pas de me lancer du madame à tout bout de champ. Même pour des questions de respect ou de bonne éducation, d'accord ?

The excerpt is from Les gens heureux lisent et boivent du café by Agnès Martin-Lugand.

The choice of masculine article for the word madame here is somewhat surprising, to say the least. The only explanation I can think of is that the word titre is implied (as in du titre de madame) and the article is chosen accordingly. Is that correct?

This brings to mind the phrase mon petit, which the famous Commissaire Maigret used to address a teen-aged girl in one of Simenon's novels. At the time I deduced that the word enfant was implied, but I've since learned that enfant can also be used as a feminine noun, so that theory doesn't seem to hold water now. What could be a better explanation?

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    I would write du with anything but I would put it between quotes: ne t'avise pas de me lancer du « madame » ou du « fillette », because I think it's not the titre but the noun. I would even write: ne t'avise pas de me lancer du « ça va bien ? » alors que tu te fiches de savoir comment je vais. This is how I've always understood the thing, of course I could be wrong. – Destal Sep 12 '16 at 21:13
  • "lancer de la madame" would mean physically throwing around actual people... – Najib Idrissi Sep 13 '16 at 8:10
  • @NajibIdrissi more precisely, throwing parts of them... – jlliagre Sep 13 '16 at 8:40
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It's not that titre de madame is implied; rather, lancer du + (expression de respect) is a popular way to signify contempt for what is seen as an ostensible manifestation of subservience.

A synonym is donner du + (expression de respect).

Il se permet d'appeler son assistante par son prénom, tandis qu'elle doit lui donner du oui monsieur.

Expressions can be used that way in other contexts:

Quand on donne l'assaut, on n'y va pas avec des s'il vous plaît et des je vous en prie.

La vieille égrenait des je vous salue Marie à longueur de journée.

I don't know if it's always the case, but all of these are somewhat pejorative / connote disapproval of the expression of respect.

Some writers may choose to add quotes for clarity of reading.

About the gender, I personally feel that this usage of expressions as nouns takes more of a neutral gender than masculine but in practice this doesn't really matter. You would just really not say lancer de la madame * or donner de la madame * — that sounds like the literal meaning is intended (of throwing or giving away bits of madame).


As for mon petit, you could imagine an implied enfant, but the problem with that theory is that it doesn't generalize well — you would never hear a native speaker say mon grand to a girl. I'm more leaning towards this being a special-case, and moreover an old-fashioned one.

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    À l'école primaire, dans la cours de récréation, les enfants les plus agés sont appelés "les grands" et les plus jeunes "les petits". Donc un "petit" peut aller voir sa maîtresse en disant « Maîtresse ! Y'a un grand qui m'embête !» par exemple – Random Sep 13 '16 at 9:07
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    @Random Mais le petit ne dira sûrement pas « Y'a un grand qui m'embête ! » si ce grand est une fille. – jlliagre Sep 13 '16 at 10:02
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    @PapaPoule the idiomatic expression that I'm familiar with is lancer/donner du with singular object— using it with plural has a slightly different meaning for lancer, used to express something said without the expectation of a response, e.g. lancer des vivats or lancer des injures; as for donner, there's no similar construction with a plural object that I'm aware of. – qoba Sep 13 '16 at 14:39
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    @PapaPoule as for agreement (she kept saying her Hail Marys) it seems to me that it would be wrong to do something similar in French – qoba Sep 13 '16 at 14:48
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    @mlj yes it's perfectly fine, and in that case there isn't the gender dissonance that the question was about. – qoba Sep 13 '16 at 15:09

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