14 April 2010

What is wrong with "ma'am"?

2 comments
 
I think of myself as a somewhat sensitive guy. In fact I have been told that I am by my wife, at least occasionally, and some of my coworkers. What does sensitive mean in this case? I gather that it boils down to me being able to listen to others, empathize with their point of view even if it is not my own, and proceed accordingly in conversation.

That said, with all the progress that has been made in women's rights, gender understanding, and corrected language, why is a younger woman, say under 40, being called "ma'am" a problem? Why does it make them feel old, less vital, or even desired or does it even? I overheard an exchange today at a bank concerning this where a late twenty-something woman teller laughed off and playfully scolded a younger twenty-something man (whom she referred to as a "boy") after he called her "ma''am" in a respectful tone. In the over ten years I've worked in retail, I've encountered this issue many times.

As far as I can tell, "ma'am", when said reasonably, is the female counterpart for "sir". When I am helping a customer, especially when I don't know their name, I refer to them as one or the other depending on their gender. If I am speaking to an authority figure I also use one or the other.

It has been suggested to me that "miss" is more appropriate for a younger woman who is not married. How can I be sure they aren't married? Is there such a designation for a man who is not married what I would call him? Should I be calling a man just "mister" whether they are married or not instead of "sir"?

I am curious about the diversity of views on this issue and its background. Care to share?

2 comments:

Kristan said...

Try spending some time in the south. A lot of kids are taught to call any woman ma'am, and ma'am is used a lot more and as a sign of respect. Personally, I like it, and started using it a lot more after my time in South Cackalacky. Of course, I'm pretty old, so I probably warrant a ma'am....

Matt Ralph said...

My wife has often commented about how respected she feels when she is called ma'am.

I have a hard time seeing a problem with it.

Hon and sweetie, on the other hand, make me cringe. I went to the dentist today and had to endure this concierge woman calling everyone she spoke with hon and sweetie for the two hours I ended up waiting.

 
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