Wednesday, August 11, 2010

To ma'am or not to ma'am...

Back in April, I wrote a blog post about Glee's Mark Salling and how the folks in LA were giving him a hard time about using "ma'am."

This past Sunday, I had lunch with two old friends, one of whom now lives in San Francisco while working on her doctorate. When I asked Candace if she missed anything about the South, one of her answers was manners.

She explained that in many parts of the country, use of the word "ma'am" is really a f*** you; it's something you say to old people to get them off your back or out of your face when they're complaining about something or droning on and on.

Huh. "Ma'am" as a f*** you. It never occurred to me that someone might use it in such a capacity. I suppose it should have; after all, depending on the situation, "You have a nice day now," might be legitimate good wishes or it might really be "I hope you get hit by a bus and die a slow and agonizing death."

When I was handling calls for the Maytag dishwasher recall (BORING!), I was criticized by the QA people for using "yes sir" too often instead of using the caller's name. In this case it was intentional on my part - there was no way I was going to pronounce his name correctly and I thought he would be less offended with a "sir."

What do you think? Are we odd and archaic in the South for observing social niceties? Is the rest of the country rude in actuality or are they just straight forward? Be sure to let me know what you think!


  1. The rest of the country is RUDE!!! I will ALWAYS use ma'am & sir and expect people to address me as ma'am.

  2. I kind of get the offensive use of it... like if someone tells you to do something and you reply yeeessss maaaam... but it's more sarcastic or annoyed, not F-U!

    At work, I often get told not to call someone ma'm or sir, but until the tell me not to, I will. It's like calling someone Mr. Mrs. Dr. Until they say call me Joe, I'm going ot call you Mr. Joe or Mr. Smith. It's the same way with the residents. They are medical doctors. They've earned the right to be called "doctor." Although some of them are my age or younger, I still call them doctor unless they ask me to call them by their first name. And a few of them, I'll never use their first name because they're too far above my position, I wouldn't feel comfortable...

    I find that I use mam most often when someone calls my name when Im walking away. I did it the other day at work to a nurse and she said don't call me mam and I realized I did it out of respect... I wasn't going to call back "WHAT?" I could have used "yes," to acknowledge I heard her, but I knew I could say mam loud to let her know I heard her and am walking back. It would be rude not to reply at all, right.

    I also think part of it is that we are raised to use sir and ma'am to our elders. When we in turn use it speaking to someone who we regard as peers, they see us as referring to them as an elder and they don't want to be elder. I don't like to be called ma'm or Mrs. to someone over the age of about 12.

    I don't expect a ma'am but it makes me smile when I get it :) Then I politely tell the person to just call me Laura

    I think the South is traditional for observing niceties, not old and archaic. And I do think the rest of the country is straight forward, not necessarily rude but just less respective of mutual respect for others. I think many in the South have mutual respect for others, no matter who they are... okay, I'm writing a thesis on your blog.... sorry!
    love ya Katie! Thanks for making us think!

  3. I've dropped to nearly a 20% usage rate of ma'am/sir. I'm not proud of myself. My usage of y'all is closer to 5%. :(

  4. Okay, so maybe not so much a "f*** you" as a "f*** off" or "whatever."

    The odd part about this is that using ma'am and sir or Miss. and Mr. was never a big deal with my parents. I grew up calling all of my aunts and uncles by their first names. I really picked it up from hearing others use it.

    Clay, you've just been gone too long... Time for y'all to come home now, lol.