1707, spelling variant of mamma. Meaning "sexually attractive woman" is attested by 1925 in African-American vernacular. Mamasan "woman in a position of authority," especially "woman in charge of a geisha-house" is by 1949, with Japanese san, an honorific title. Mama mia! as an exclamation of surprise, etc. is by 1848, from Italian, literally "mother mine!"
1738, name of an idol supposedly worshipped by certain tribes in Africa; said to be a corruption of words in Mandingo (one reconstructed version is Mama Dyumbo), but no likely source has been found in the languages of the Niger region, to which the original accounts relate. Meaning "big, empty talk" is attested from 1896.
"mother," a word used especially by children and infants, 1570s, representing the native form of the reduplication of *ma- that is nearly universal among the Indo-European languages (Greek mamme "mother, grandmother," Latin mamma, Persian mama, Russian and Lithuanian mama "mother," German Muhme "mother's sister," French maman, Welsh mam "mother").
Probably a natural sound in baby-talk, perhaps imitative of sound made while sucking. Its late appearance in English is curious, but Middle English had mome (mid-13c.) "an aunt; an old woman," also an affectionate term of address for an older woman.
In educated usage, the stress is always on the last syllable. In terms of the recorded appearance of the variant or related words in English, mama is from 1707, mum is from 1823, mummy in this sense from 1839, mommy 1844, momma 1810, and mom 1867. Mamma's boy "soft, effeminate male" is by 1901.
late 14c., "red with heat, heated till it glows red" (of metal, etc.); in reference to persons, "lively, passionate," it is recorded from c. 1600. Red-hot mama is 1926, jazz slang, "earthy female singer," also "girlfriend, lover."
1810, American English variant of mamma (q.v.). Apparently first used in the South and with a racial context. As a biker's girlfriend or female passenger, from 1950s.
An old negro woman is called momma, which is a broad pronunciation of mama ; and a girl, missy. I once happened to call a young negro wench momma—"me be no momma," says she, "me had no children yet." [John Lambert, "Travels through Lower Canada, and the United States of North America in the Years 1806, 1807, and 1808," London, 1810]
late 13c., signifien, "be a sign of (a fact or alleged fact), indicate, mean," also "declare, make known by signs, speech, or action," from Old French signifier (12c.), from Latin significare "to make signs, show by signs, point out, express; mean, signify; foreshadow, portend," from significus (adj.), from signum "identifying mark, sign" (see sign (n.)) + combining form of facere "to make, to do" (from PIE root *dhe- "to set, put").
The intransitive sense of "be of importance" is attested from 1660s. The meaning "engage in mock-hostile banter" is African-American vernacular, by 1932. Related: Signified; signifying.
While writing this essay, I asked a colleague, Dwight Andrews, if he had heard of the Signifying Monkey as a child. "Why, no" he relied intently. "I never head of the Signifying Monkey until I came to Yale and read about him in a book." I had been signified upon. If I had responded to Andrews, "I know what you mean; your Mama read to me from that same book the last time I was in Detroit," I would have signified upon him in return. [Henry Louis Gates Jr., footnote in "Figures in Black," 1987]