I’m Right, You’re Wrong

by Marinka on November 21, 2010

Today, having alienated everyone in my family with past I’m Right, You’re Wrong installments, I’m bringing in new blood, aka Kelcey, the author of the brilliant MamaBird Diaries and mom to four kids. Including a set of twins. But just because she’s funny and smart and has gorgeous kids doesn’t mean that she can’t be wrong.

Disagreement: Is it rude to call a woman of a certain age ma’am?

Disagreers: Marinka and Kelcey

Position One: No. ‘Ma’am’ is polite. And calling a woman over the age of 20 ‘Miss’ smacks of sarcasm.

Position Two: Unless you are living in the south (where ma’am is a term of respect for any woman of any age), it’s always nicer to use miss rather than ma’am. Ma’am just makes women feel old. And if I want to feel old, I’ll just inspect my forehead wrinkles in the car visor mirror.

What do you say, sir? Is it rude or not?

One year ago ...

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New York Mom|The Mama Bird Diaries - humor parenting
November 22, 2010 at 12:04 am

{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

Steph November 21, 2010 at 12:45 am

this is awesome b/c y’all are both right! or am i missing something? having lived my life in kentucky, louisiana, and texas, I, of course, think ma’am is a totally normal term of utmost respect–or at least until lately when the child sacking my groceries calls me “ma’am.” maybe it is the inflection??

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Pauline
Twitter:
November 21, 2010 at 1:02 am

Is this a trick question? Trickery! It’s always Ma’am out of fucking respect. Did I just say fucking? Good night.

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Pauline
Twitter:
November 21, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Someone should take away my computer after two glasses of wine.

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Scary Mommy
Twitter:
November 21, 2010 at 7:25 am

I refuse to be called ma’am. I simply will not respond to it. Miss all the way.

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GrandeMocha
Twitter:
November 21, 2010 at 7:50 am

Disagreements over cat care alienated the fam?

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awesome dude November 21, 2010 at 8:12 am

Asking it as not native English speaker. Does Ma’am equal or mean Madam?

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Marinka November 21, 2010 at 9:56 am

Yes, it is short for “Madam.” But not necessarily “whorehouse Madam.”

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hokgardner
Twitter:
November 21, 2010 at 9:05 am

I was present for this little debate, and I was a bit worried that one of them was going to flip the table a la Teresa on RHONJ.

Living in Texas, I’m used to hearing ma’am, so it doesn’t bother me in the least.

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Marinka November 21, 2010 at 9:58 am

Oh, I was scared too. Fortunately, Kelcey was in a weakened condition, what with the four kids and not sleeping, so I took some solace in that she’d be physically unable to flip that table.

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Prima Mama November 21, 2010 at 9:10 am

I always understood that single ladies were Miss, and that married women were Ma’am. I don’t take offense to the Ma’am. I’m still in my 20’s and married with a child. I’d kind of be offended to be called Miss, I earned the battle scars to called Ma’am!

So, I side with position one.

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Marinka November 21, 2010 at 10:11 am

OMG, is this true?

Because that changes everything!

Unless the idea is “you’re so young, you couldn’t possibly be married, unless you were a child bride, so I’ll go with ‘miss'”?!

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MommyTime
Twitter:
November 22, 2010 at 8:28 pm

Single ladies are “miss” up to a certain age differential (not an absolute age): you can be 23 and single and “ma’am” to someone who is 6 (or else he’ll get whopped upside the head by his momma for bein’ rude). Married ladies are always ma’am, no matter the age. But these rules only apply south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Personally, I was offended when I got “ma’am”ed on the phone at 19 by my sister’s 15 year old boyfriend. I was NOT offended, on the other hand, when the cashier at the grocery store “miss”ed me, even though I was there with two fractious children. However, I did find the “miss” suddenly a bit odd. Frankly, I think I am too old to care that much, which probably suggests that I am a Ma’am now. *sigh*

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MommyTime
Twitter:
November 22, 2010 at 8:29 pm

I should clarify that the “miss” incident in question happened last week. I am no longer 19.

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pam November 21, 2010 at 10:03 am

Being from the south I always thought ma’am was a respectful way to address a lady. Now that I’m ‘of a certain age’ every time I’m called one I feel like I’ve been smacked with a flacid tuna!

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Faiqa
Twitter:
November 21, 2010 at 10:28 am

I’m not crazy about either. I prefer, “Your Majesty.”

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Keyona
Twitter:
November 21, 2010 at 10:50 am

Being military I typically use “ma’am” but being only 29, I refuse to let anyone refer to me as such.

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K-Line November 21, 2010 at 10:51 am

This one is impossible because both of the options are offensive. Can’t we just say “Excuse me?” to get her attention? My father is all about the “Miss” for what it’s worth. Everyone’s a “Miss” in his universe.

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Finn November 21, 2010 at 11:16 am

Like Faiqa, I prefer to be called by my formal title.

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Tess Jones
Twitter:
November 21, 2010 at 11:57 am

When I am called ma’am I have a physiological response…like a full body cringe. Therefore, I prefer Miss always. But at 44 years old should I be working on getting over it? So that maybe by the age of 65 I’ll be ok with ma’am?

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tarheelmom
Twitter:
November 21, 2010 at 12:13 pm

being born and raised in NC, in my youth using ma’am was like breathing…having lived and birthed my children in NYC, ma’am was pretty much unheard…having recently moved back to NC, the first time i was referred to as “ma’am” made me cringe and look over my burp covered shoulder for my mother and it took me a long time to get used to. i finally realized i was reaping what i’d sowed – as i’d unknowingly taught my own children to call adults, Mr. Lastname, Mrs. Lastname, yes/no sir and yes/no ma’am – old southern habits die hard – i now agree with Prima Mama’s battle scar analogy and find ma’am much less cringe-worthy…having said that, i have been known to answer to “snarky bitch” in my circle of bitchy friends!

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Sheila
Twitter:
November 21, 2010 at 12:35 pm

I think ma’am is just respectful. Miss is fine for a certain age (under 30?) but I find it condescending.

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Wendi
Twitter:
November 21, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Ma’am is ok. Also, I find it hugely condescending when people refer to elderly women as “girls.”

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I'm Nate's Mom November 22, 2010 at 8:33 am

And utterly ridiculous when a group of 12 year old soccer players are referred to as “ladies.” You gotta earn it.

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MommyTime
Twitter:
November 22, 2010 at 8:30 pm

I totally agree with Wendi and Nate’s mom.

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Jonathan November 21, 2010 at 1:08 pm

I don’t use either, I just say excuse me or thank you without using any specific address but now I want to say” excuse me madam” to see what will happen.

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Peajaye
Twitter:
November 21, 2010 at 1:57 pm

I live in The South. Of California. So I get “señor,” which is very close to “senior” as in citizen. And I don’t like it one bit.

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barbara sigelbaum
Twitter:
November 21, 2010 at 2:02 pm

The first time I heard that term aimed at me, like a poisoned dart, I turned around to see if my mother was behind me. I think the poor, young man was sorry about his choice of salutation. Bet I looked scary.

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Alex@LateEnough
Twitter:
November 21, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I love “ma’am”. And “miss” makes me feel like I’m 12. Unless it’s Miss. Alex because Madam Alex just brings back memories… wait, what?

PS. My favorite? Using “sir” for elderly men. They are so pleased! And they’re going to die soon so I think they should be happy as much as possible.

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The Flying Chalupa
Twitter:
November 21, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Gotta go with ‘Miss.’ But will respond to ‘Ma’am.’ Out of sheer gratitude that someone is not attempting to butcher my name.

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Heather November 21, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Since I am Southerner, I believe I’m disqualified from answering. Also, don’t ask me to choose between friends.

And yes, Prima Mama is correct about the usage. At least that’s the definition I was raised with, ma’am. Pray tell, do Northerners NOT sleep with an etiquette book under their cradle? I thought that was totally normal.

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lonek8
Twitter:
November 21, 2010 at 9:10 pm

I personally find Miss a little too close to “missy” as in “you better go clean up your room missy” or some other statement indicating that the other person is trying to be polite while also emphasizing that they think they are above me.

Ma’am is meant to be polite. no one in the history of EVER has said Ma’am with the intention of calling a woman old. People who have a problem with it are the reason common courtesies are disappearing and everyday decency is eroding. get the stick out of your ass and just accept when someone is trying to be polite. or the next time instead of Ma’am, I’ll call you bitch like you deserve.

This us apparently a sensitive issue for me 🙂

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dusty earth mother November 21, 2010 at 11:01 pm

I gotta say, I have a visceral response to “ma’am”. I know it’s polite and all, but I just feel ancient when someone says it to me. I once changed my vote because the candidate called me “ma’am”. Of course, he later went to prison so I made the right choice, but that’s too long a story to go into here.

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Lish November 21, 2010 at 11:14 pm

If a Southerner calls me “ma’am’, I think it’s just the cutest thing, and I’m tickled pink. Anyone without the drawl should probably just leave it alone (as it just sounds ugly sans accent).

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Gretchen November 22, 2010 at 12:59 am

My views on this issue have changed of late. For many years I was a ma’am hater, despite my Southernism, it made me feel ancient and matronly. But now? If someone calls me miss, I feel certain that they’re being either sarcastic or pandering. Hmmm. Could I be…paranoid?

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From Belgium November 22, 2010 at 7:49 am

Give me a polite ‘mademoiselle’ over a ‘madame’ each and every time…

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Jordana November 22, 2010 at 8:19 am

I have been told this by Position Two for many years, and just assumed she was right (as she normally is). I am so happy to hear that I am not alone in thinking there is nothing wrong with calling a lady “ma’am.” Nor am I ever insulted at being called ma’am.

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Diane November 22, 2010 at 8:33 am

Actually, I prefer Senator. I’ve worked so hard for that title.

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Stacey November 22, 2010 at 9:36 am

I live in the south, but when someone calls me ma’am I want to kick them in the taco.

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tracy
Twitter:
November 22, 2010 at 9:59 am

I am only offended by ma’am when it comes from a hot young man – oh about 20 years old. I am offended that he finds me old like his mother instead of hot like a potential girlfriend.

In all other circumstances, I am just fine with ma’am though.
Tracy

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Hollywood Farm November 22, 2010 at 11:11 am

Ok being called Ma’am by a southern gentleman will always be flattering.

Being called ma’am by a cute 20 something surfer boy, not so flattering!

Being called Ma’am by your own chid during verbal lashing……..
…….wellll allllright…I’ll take it!

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Rebecca Simms November 22, 2010 at 6:00 pm

I am 58 and cringe everytime some sales guy calls me “young lady” Does anybody else of this age feel borderline insulted or whatever when that happens. I want to say something but not quite sure what to say without sounding like an old biddy.

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Becky Mochaface November 22, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Ma’am always.

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Alexandria
Twitter:
November 22, 2010 at 8:09 pm

i don’t you can really go wrong by saying ma’am

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Miss Cavendish November 22, 2010 at 10:55 pm

I prefer “Miss.” And as much as I dislike “ma’am,” “mom” is a gazillion times worse, which an unfortunate SA insisted on calling me while I was with my three children.

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Sunny November 23, 2010 at 10:10 am

I hate being called Miss. 5 1/2 years in the Air Force have pretty much ingrained in me to call women “ma’am” and get used to being called “ma’am” myself. My husband and I also use “sir” and “ma’am” with our children, both calling and being called.

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Elisa
Twitter:
November 23, 2010 at 11:29 am

Unless you live in the South – and I never did – it’s just plain rude. Because it make one feel old, and it also makes one want to go all “Hulk smash!” on your rude, age-ist ass.

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Loukia November 23, 2010 at 3:41 pm

I definitely don’t think it’s rude, by any means, to be called ma’am. It’s just… offensive, because do I LOOK LIKE A MA’AM? And yes, I’ve been called ma’am before. It’s like, who are you, little coffee dude, calling ME ma’am? Don’t I LOOK YOUNG STILL? OMG. STRESS.

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rebecca November 23, 2010 at 4:42 pm

everyone is ma’am in Tennessee. even my 7 year old niece! LoL

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Shannon November 24, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Florida may not really be “the South,” but my family certainly is Southern and I was taught any adult female is to be called “ma’am.” Yes, technically “miss” is for the unmarried, younger women, but using “ma’am” for everyone is generally the safer bet around here.

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ma'amandproud May 22, 2011 at 4:50 pm

The problem is using “Miss” for women in their teens and 20s while there is no comparable term for men of that age. Naturally this creates some weird double standard for women based on age. “Miss” = 20s and younger, “Ma’am” = 30s and older. This is stupid in light of the fact that men of every age are “Sirs” I address every female who has boobs as a “Ma’am” Ideally it should be Miss + last name/Ma’am otherwise for EVERY WOMAN. Not using the terms in this manner is what has given women this weird complex of feeling ancient when called ma’am.

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Ester Jean December 2, 2011 at 1:01 pm

I think “Miss” sounds ridiculous unless you’re talking to a child and you add “little” before it. I had a girlfriend from Oklahoma whose children called me “Miss Ester” and it didn’t bother me even though I was married at the time. If someone called me Miss instead of Ma’am it seems like it would sound condescending. I don’t understand people who are offended by being called Ma’am, but I also think it’s silly when people say, “Don’t call me Mr. _____; that’s my father’s name.”

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The Truth December 2, 2011 at 2:43 pm

That’s all about this society’s discomfort with ageing. You know, young is cool and happening, old is tired and finished. Nobody wants to feel as if their life is over. For women it stings especially because there is nothing positive about us growing older.

You lose your girlish looks, figure, ability to have kids and nobody thinks you look distinguished with gray hair. Oh, no you’re just an old crone. So everything that is wonderful about being a woman is lost as you grow older.

The truth is people use Miss for young, pretty things and Ma’am for middle aged and older women and that is an unwritten but well understood rule. Therefore when women hear ma’am they think “I look old now; old is ugly and useless, I am ugly and useless.”

Meanwhile, in alignment with the double standard on ageing, men of all ages are called sir and it has no meaning except that they are men being shown respect. Men can age with comfort. They are distinguished “silver foxes,” who can still date younger women (and not be laughed at or ridiculed for it) have their own genetic children with those younger women. Men are valued for more than how they look. Men hear “sir” and they think “I am being shown my proper respect by someone subordinate to me. I am important.”

Some men might hear “I am like my Dad now. My Dad is an older gentleman. He is important and distinguished, but I don’t feel that grown up yet. Ha-ha, the joke is on the person thinking I’m a sir.”

So, that’s why a lot of women get bent out of shape for being called ma’am. They hear “I’m old, ugly, useless and no longer sexually desirable,” because that is how society sees older women.

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