Pa – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did a friend just address their father as ‘Pa?’ This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this paternal expression.


The expression ‘Pa’ is a colloquialism of the word ‘father.’ It’s a term of endearment held by children towards their ‘pater’ and a shortened form of ‘papa.’ ‘Pa’ refers to your biological father or an adopted parent. Both grown and small children will use the expression when referring to their father.

Pa’ can also refer to the abbreviation for the state of Pennsylvania in the US. ‘Pa.’ is a common abbreviation for the state used when writing an address. Pa. refers to the state of Pennsylvania, encompassing the region’s 21 cities and 67 counties.

These cities include Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Reading, Erie, Upper Darby, Scranton, Bethlehem, Lower Merion, Bensalem Township,    Lancaster, Mill Creek, Lower Paxton, Haverford, Harrisburg, York, Wilkes-Barre, Altoona, Hempfield, State College, and Penn Hills.

PA’ is also an abbreviation for ‘Personal assistant.’

However, the most common use of ‘pa’ is as a colloquialism for father.

Example Usage

“I wonder how much it costs to refurbish a roof? I should ask my pa. He’ll know where I can get the best estimate.”

“Hey, Pa, Ma told me to come and call you for dinner. She wants to know if you’re coming or if she should put your plate in the oven.”

“I live in Pittsburgh, Pa. It’s a great city full of nightlife and exciting things to do. It’s one of the strongest manufacturing economies in the country.”

“I have the best pa in the world. He showed me how to fish and hunt, and he’s always there for advice when I need him.”

“I don’t think we can handle moving to Scranton, Pa. The winters are too cold, and I’m not used to that weather. Let’s stay in Texas where it’s warm, please.”


The expression ‘Pa’ originates from the Latin ‘papa,’ a child’s word describing their father. It’s similar to the Greek version, ‘pappa,’ meaning ‘o father.’ However, the French were the first to introduce ‘papa’ as a word for father in the 1680s.

The English use of ‘pa’ appears in 1804 as a colloquialism for ‘father.’ Language experts assume it comes from the relationship between England and France, resulting in many French words being adapted for the English language.

The phrase started as a way for kids from wealthy households to address their father, spreading into the common vernacular by the end of the 1800s. The word spread throughout the English and British communities, crossing the pond to the Americas in the late 1800s.

Phrases Similar to Pa

  • Father.
  • Dad.
  • Pennsylvania.

Phrases Opposite to Pa

  • Ma.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Pa

Ways People May Say Pa Incorrectly

Using ‘Pa’ as a reference to your grandfather is incorrect. In this case, your grandfather would be your ‘grandpa.’ Using the abbreviation ‘PA’ to refer to any other state other than Pennsylvania is incorrect.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Pa

You can use the term ‘Pa’ when referring to your father. It’s more of a European expression, and most Americans will call their father ‘dad’ as a colloquialism. Canadians prefer using ‘pa’ when referencing their father due to the influence of British and French culture on the nation.

Pa can also refer to the state of Pennsylvania, and it’s an abbreviation for the state. You can use this abbreviation in written communications where you don’t want to write out the full word or want to avoid a spelling mistake. The term is well understood by all Americans as an abbreviation for Pennsylvania.

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