DEAR MISS MANNERS: Our vice president is being addressed as "Madam Vice President." I realize she is the first female vice president in the United States and so this usage is precedent-setting. However, to my ear, this usage doesn't seem to be the female equivalent of the way American presidents are addressed ("Mr. President").
Wouldn't true equivalency be "Ms. Vice President"? In the Francophone diplomatic world, "madam" is used for both female ambassadors and wives of ambassadors, which further muddies the water.
GENTLE READER: There is another muddle in that water: You are confusing "madam" with the French honorific "madame."
"Madam" is a perfectly good English word -- the equivalent of "mister," with a dash more respect added. Thus it is the correct way to address someone of high rank, married or not (as it is used for female royalty in England). In direct address, it is abbreviated as "ma’am," equivalent to "sir" for males.
As Miss Manners recalls, the precedent was set by the previous highest-ranking female in U.S. government. When Madeleine Albright became secretary of state, she became "Madam Secretary," as she entitled her memoir.
You need not feel bad about your mistake; the entire last all-male United States Supreme Court was unable to figure out (and failed to research) the equivalent for "Mr. Justice" for their first female peer. So, like many people who are bewildered by the emotional controversy about titles, they dropped the courtesy entirely, becoming simply "Justice."
It saddens Miss Manners when those little touches of respect disappear.