Dear Abby, “ma’am” ‘n’ me

A while ago (back in January ’07) I wrote a post entitled, let me call you sweetheart.  It was in response to a random blog I had read about a woman who was curious as to the appropriateness of calling a stranger “babe” or “hon” or “sweetie,” etc.  Unbeknownst to me, the lady tracked me back and commented on my comment of her blog.  I had generalized her inquiry as a “complaint” but which I readily recanted on my comment back to her and rightly so, she wasn’t really “complaining” just wondering how others felt about it.

 My feeling then and now was that those endearing terms being used liberally is not a bad thing.  (I won’t spoil the post if you want to research it further on your own, feel free)  I had mentioned that as a young person I had always called men, “sir” and women, “ma’am” and looked at those titles as precursory to the showing of respect to that individual regardless of gender.  Nuff said.

Today I did my John Prine rendition of reading the newspaper and checked out Dear Abby.  Now, Abigale Van Buren (Pauline Phillips) and me go way back.  Recently the torch has been passed on to her daughter, Jeanne.  I am amazed at how much wisdom can be inherited by syndicated columnists. (I do not mean that in a derogatory way)  I have read the column faithfully each time I read the newspaper.  I may go many days in between reading (the Internet has the news sooo much faster) but when I do I check out her advice without fail.

Today’s topic brought the recollections of my post (mentioned above) because apparently there are women out there that feel the use of “ma’am” is inappropriate, quaint, belittling or just down right offensive and/or dated.  I can imagine Rosie O’Donnell freaking out and blubbering a spew of jibberish on how sexist it is to be called “ma’am,” but really, is it that bad of a term?  The woman writing to Abby felt that men have a solitary, “age free” form of address in the word, “sir” while women have multiple forms to depict their age category.

Men have other forms of address, “young man” is a form that comes to mind and crosses the boundary of pre-school up through college and beyond.  “Mac” is another.  I doubt if I say, “Hey Mac!” someone is going to get in a tizzy over it.  How about “Buster” or “Bud” or “Dude,”  for that matter?  “Hey man” is one that I use quite often, I don’t recall anyone feeling like I was questioning their sexuality or age.  (“Hey man!”  “I’m a boy, you moron!”)  In Bible times women referred to their husbands as, “my Lord.”  Rosie would have a field day with that notion these days.  (ever notice every picture you see of her she has her mouth open?)

It was pointed out in today’s Abby that  in military terms, “ma’am” is the equivalent of “sir.”  No disrespect or age defining connotation in that usage.  Another alert reader brought out that “ma’am” is derived from the word, “madam” which comes from the French term, “ma dame” and translated to English means, “my lady.”  He reasoned that, “to be called “ma’am” is as close as anyone in the U.S. can get to being referred to as royalty.”

Regardless of your station in this life, respect is something we seem to show very little of these days.  From the office of the President right down to local law enforcement, the entitlement of respect goes with the position held, whether the individual warrants it or not.  If a person is going to be taking offense at another persons attempt to show a little respect, then that effort will gradually recede with each occasion until we have a generation of people not showing ANY veneration to gender, position and/or authority.  Then there will be the weeping and gnashing of teeth to the wonderment of “where has it all disappeared to?”

C’mon, girls… give the notion that your age is showing by the use of a polite terminology up, will ya?  You might just make some ol’ geezer’s day by showing a grateful nod of approval and/or win the heart of some well meaning lad.



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15 Responses to “Dear Abby, “ma’am” ‘n’ me”

  1. msdane Says:

    “Come on girls” might get you more flak than ma’am did. I don’t mind being called “ma’am.” It is a term of respect. I do mind when I sign a check or fill out any paper work the recipients’ always seem to think they can call me by my first name. And since my first name is legally “Cynthia” and I cringe every time I hear it, I am quite unhappy that people assume it is okay for them to address me that way. Just one of my pet peeves, I know no one means harm by it, but I’d rather be called Ms. Lastname by people I’ve never met before in my life.

    When my son Richard and I went to the Renaissance Festival in Minnesota a few years ago, shopkeepers everywhere were calling him “My Lord,” and me, “My Lady.” I must say, it felt kind of nice.

  2. karen62979 Says:

    I’ve never been bothered by the use of “ma’am”. But, I’m slightly over 50, as well. I take it as a sign of respect, simply because of my age.

    I have to agree with the use of the first name, though. I prefer to be called “Mrs. Lastname” if I don’t know the person. The “Mrs.” isn’t in question either. My rings are on my left hand for all to see.

  3. toejam Says:

    you can call me larry, you can call me terry, you can call me jerry, you can even call me shirley.
    i don’t care.
    just don’t call me percy.

  4. chrisfiore5 Says:

    you can call me a taxi if you want to…

    but don’t call me shirley.


  5. toejam Says:

    I was just trying to put some humor into a conversation that to me is nonsense.
    What is so wrong with being addresed with Sir or Ma’am?
    When I was a boy, if I diddn’t answer my grandma with “Yes ma’am/no ma’am, or my grandpa with yes sir /no sir – I got my butt kicked.
    It was all about respect. Not just your elders, but respect for the person.
    In many ways, I think we have lost our ways.
    Really, I just don’t understand why anyone should or would take offence of being addressed as Sir or Ma’am.
    Take a moment and think about the intent.

  6. chrisfiore5 Says:

    that’s the problem, it has been over thought and analyzed to death and somebody managed to find a way to get offended.

    not all the old ways are best, but I get where you are coming from and I agree…

    as our world turns ever colder to the notion of a polite society, it is refreshing to know that there are those of us willing to buck that trend and stand tall in the ways of chivalry.

    it is what AMRFP is all about…


  7. damewiggy Says:

    if they’re offended by well intentioned endearing terms, i’d suggest referring to them, and addressing them with ‘yo, bitch’ in the future.

    but that’s just me. i’m irreverent like that. 😉

  8. toejam Says:

    Well said damewiggy.
    Yes Ma’am damewiggy, I think I like you (but that’s irreverent).

  9. chrisfiore5 Says:

    oh sure, “yo bitch” is so much better than “ma’am” I doubt ANYONE would be offended with that terminology…

    damewiggy, you are an instigator…


  10. damewiggy Says:


    silly funnies.

  11. msdane Says:

    Wow! All this about one term of respect! I see no one gave you any grief about the “C’mon girls.” Good. Must not have that many feminists reading your site. As for being called, “Honey” or “Sweetie” by someone I don’t know it depends on the delivery. Old people talk that way a lot and I don’t see any offense at it. Now if someone is leering at you and calls you “Honey” or “Babe” or whatever, then that is for sure time to take exception. IMHO anyway. In cases like that I just walk away as quickly as I can.

  12. karen62979 Says:

    “C’mon girls” is how I call my girls in, & they don’t care. But then again, they’re a pair of female German Shepherds!

  13. chrisfiore5 Says:

    oh gee… I opened a can of dog food…er, worms!


  14. justmytwocents Says:

    My question is this: if ma’am is indeed just a polite address for a woman, why do women who are in their twenties (and sometimes 30s) not using it for women their own age? I wouldn’t mind being called ma’am if the young lady who comes in the bar after me is also called ma’am since she, by definition, is also a woman if she is old enough to drink, correct? But this is not happening.

    True story: I was in a bar the other night and the young bar tender, a woman, asked “what can I get for you ma’am?” Another woman came five minutes later, youngish, and the bartender said “what can I get for you?” There was no ma’am address for Ms. Twenty-something!

    Now, I ask you: if ma’am is just a respectful term for a woman, why isn’t the younger woman entitled to as much respect in this context as I am? These are the kinds of incidences that make women’s blood boil and why the hate being called ma’am. It’s pretty obvious from something like this that the woman being called ma’am is being called ma’am because of her age and nothing more. Another part of it is women in their twenties still thinking of themselves as girls, but that’s another subject.

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