Ma'am / Madame / Lady / Miss

Discussion in 'English Only' started by prankstare, Sep 13, 2008.

  1. prankstare Senior Member

    São Paulo
    Portuguese - Brazil
    Are there any differences among the usage of these refinements when addressing a woman?

    I wonder why we often get 'Ma'am' in American movies.
  2. MELmadrue Senior Member

    English - United States
    I'm from Florida, USA. In general, ma'am is for older or married women and miss is used for younger women. I personally don't really like being called either one (I'm youngish and married).

    Madame isn't used at all, except maybe to be silly. Lady is never used to address a woman, but may be used when talking about someone, e.g. "A lady from the bank called for you." However, I personally don't like lady, either, and would just say someone or a woman in that sentence.
  3. NeotonicDragon3

    NeotonicDragon3 New Member

    Russia/USA - English
    Thats What I was thinking :)
  4. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    Ma'am is a shortened form of madam, and is common in the southern United States when addressing adult women (it is not at all as common in the northern United States.) Madam is extremely formal, and equally rare. You might hear a hotel clerk tell an obnoxious and irate woman "Madam, I'm sorry, but we simply have no record of your reservation." "Miss" is used for adressing younger women in the US, and it is also common in the northern US even for older women, as in "Miss, I think you dropped your keys over there." Mel is wrong about "lady": it certainly can be used to address a woman, but while not exactly rude it is also usually not very friendly. You might hear a traffic agent say "Lady, you can't just stop your car in the middle of the street!", or a construction worker say "Lady, we are trying to unload this truck here, can you stand somewhere else?"
  5. prankstare Senior Member

    São Paulo
    Portuguese - Brazil

    Hehe. May I ask what do you like to be called then, except for 'woman' or, of course, your own name?

    I mean as you are young and married. ^^

    Would there be any other nice fitting term?
  6. MELmadrue Senior Member

    English - United States
    Your are exactly right. I should have been more clear. Lady can definitely be used as a direct address, but it's rude-sounding.
  7. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Maybe it's that I am no longer young, but I don't mind being called "ma'am". In fact, I find it polite and appropriate in many situations, such as dealing with call center personnel or in shops.
  8. MELmadrue Senior Member

    English - United States
    I guess there's really not. I don't get offended by ma'am or miss, they just sound funny to me I guess. I'm a teacher (of adults), and in the classroom I definitely prefer to be called by my name rather than miss or ma'am.
  9. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
  10. prankstare Senior Member

    São Paulo
    Portuguese - Brazil
    I was trying to think of a good term when referring to my English teacher.

    She is 28 years old -- not old, yet not too young either.

    What do you guys come up with in this case?
  11. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    When referring to someone, just use their name.

    Ma'am and so on is only used in direct, formal address.
  12. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    The standard way of addresing a teacher is with the correct honorific, and the last name. If your teacher is named Mary Brilliant, you would call her "Miss Brilliant", or "Mrs. Brilliant", or "Ms. Brilliant", as appropriate or as she prefers:

    Miss Brilliant, could you please explain the pluperfect tense again?
    Thank you, Miss Brilliant.
  13. MELmadrue Senior Member

    English - United States
    Ask your teacher what she would like to be called. I personally prefer to be called by my first name because my students range in age from younger than I am to much older.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2008
  14. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    In my current doctoral program I have teachers who are literally young enough to be my children. I would not think of calling any one of them by his or her first name. It is not really good form for teachers to tell their students to call them by their first names, if for no other reason than the teacher, in the name of a misplaced bonhommie, would be using his or her position of authority to demand that the student do something that may make the student uncomfortable. Teachers who are uncomfortable with the disparity in title between themselves and their students can even the equation by addressing their students respectfully as adults: Mr. Jones, Miss Smith, etc.
  15. MELmadrue Senior Member

    English - United States
    I think it really depends on the teacher and the class. I'm an English teacher, not a professor, and it's very natural for students to call me by my first name.
  16. prankstare Senior Member

    São Paulo
    Portuguese - Brazil

    So, you are saying it's not a good idea to refer to a teacher by their first name instead of their surname or, are just saying that enforcing students to do something they feel uncomfortable doing is no good? Well, if the first, I don't quite agree with you since, in my opinion, calling anybody by their first name is a nice thing as well as respectful enough in any circumstances -- or maybe it's just because of the "doctoral program" thing which may be a bit different. I do think calling someone by their surname kind of gives the impression of exorbitantly too much formality.

    Though thank you very much 'GreenWhiteBlue' for enlightening me with your post:

  17. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    This is absolutely not true in the English speaking world. While the UK is apparently less formal these days than the United States, in the US it can still be considered quite offensive to be called by one's first name by a complete stranger. If one is waiting for an appointment in a doctor's office, for example, a 20 year old receptionist with any manners at all addresses a patient of 50 as "Mr. Smith" or "Mrs. Jones". Being told "Joseph, you can go in now", or "Susan, you have an appointment on Tuesday" is not "nice" or "respectful" at all!!!

    The "thing" is that the person instructing the class is the teacher, and by the mere fact of that position is entitled to the respect of being addressed as an adult.

    While this may be the case in Portugese, it is certainly not the case in English -- or at least, English as it is spoken in the United States. Here, calling a stranger, or someone older than yourself, or someone in a position of authority, "Mr. X" or "Ms. Y" is basic good manners, while addressing such people by their first names may be considered inappropriate familiarity, effrontery, and outright rudeness.

    When in Rome...
  18. MELmadrue Senior Member

    English - United States
    Again, I stress that in a classroom setting, the student should politely ask what the teacher would like to be called. In most cases, the teacher will already have told the students on the first day of class anyway. With strangers, of course, you should never assume that they want to be called by their first name.
  19. prankstare Senior Member

    São Paulo
    Portuguese - Brazil

    Interesting how manners differ depending on the location we refer to -- in this case, different countries.

    Here in Brazil, a regular school teacher probably wouldn't even bother to wonder what they would rather be called by their students. At the worst situation, if there is a nickname, they would ask the students which way the students would prefer to call her and not the contrary; for example, the teacher would say: "My first name is Margaret, but everyone calls me 'Mag', so as you wish.". That's probably just me but, on the other hand, if a teacher demands to be called by their last name (I mean if they really do say that out loud in classroom), I am thinking twice as hard before putting my thoughts into words about what I think about that teacher. :)
  20. Dr. Benway Senior Member

    Spain. Spanish.
    I have a bumping day today.

    What if a traffic agent's stops a car and he addresses to the male driver and asks him for the papers of the woman on the passenger seat?

    "The miss's papers, please"
    "The lady's papers, please"
  21. Winstanley808 Banned

    English - U.S.
    Well, to begin with, in the U.S. people don't carry "papers," and are not required to provide any to authorities. If a police officer (not a "traffic agent," another term not used in the U.S.) stopped a driver for a traffic law violation, or stopped at the scene of a collision with another vehicle, he could ask the driver for his license, and for the vehicle registration, which the driver is required to furnish while operating a vehicle. The officer would be allowed to ask for the identification of the passengers only under limited circumstances. If he did so, he would probably ask each passenger directly.

    Asking for a female passenger's identification indirectly, in the manner you are asking about, by addressing a request to the driver, would be politically incorrect and could get the officer in trouble. So there really isn't a term that would be used in American English under these circumstances.
  22. fiercediva

    fiercediva Senior Member

    New York, NY
    American English
    In AE (at least in my Northeastern neck of the woods) an officer making a stop usually says "License and registration, please" to the driver with no Misters, Misses or Ma'ams. Passengers usually aren't asked for ID unless it is a border crossing and birth/passport need to be seen, and the driver would probably just pass both sets of info over to the officer.

    (cross posted)
  23. Dr. Benway Senior Member

    Spain. Spanish.
    Ok, but the materials I'm translating, a Chilean soap opera don't seem to really care that much about all that.

    Anyway, I guess there must be a way to address to a lady or a miss, in an indirect manner.
  24. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    In that case, "the lady's papers" would work. I can't think of a situation in which "the miss's" would work, at least not for me.
  25. Winstanley808 Banned

    English - U.S.
    Yes, if it's a translation into English of a scene that takes place in Chile or some other country where citizens are required to carry "papers" (and that's what compulsory government-issued identification documents of other countries are called in English) and the police can demand them at will. Assuming the "traffic agent" in the original used a polite term for a woman (to go with the "please"), and didn't ask for the equivalent of "The woman's papers," then "lady" would probably convey that the best.
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2015
  26. Dr. Benway Senior Member

    Spain. Spanish.
    Thanks, JustKate and Winstanley808.
  27. Englishmypassion

    Englishmypassion Senior Member

    India - Hindi
    In Indian culture, if a student addressed his/her teacher by her (first/second) name, the student would be either slapped by the teacher or taken to the principal for punishment, :( hence my occasional addressing WR members as "sir/madam", the thing I am learning to avoid since native speakers don't seem to like it.
  28. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Actually, "sir" and "ma'am" are still in common use in some parts of the U.S., including the part I live in. I use them every single day. They are particularly common in the Southern U.S., but even in those parts of the U.S. where they aren't particularly common, they are still used from time to time. And of course they are extensively used in certain specific contexts, such as the military.
  29. Sparky Malarky

    Sparky Malarky Moderator

    English - US
    Winstanley, in case you didn't notice, the original question opened a bit of a can of worms [idiom] when it was first posted back in 2008. People have a LOT of different opinions about how they like to be addressed. Some women become offended if you call them "ma'am." Others (me!), enjoy when people show us respect. Children used to be taught to answer questions from adults "Yes sir" and "Yes ma'am." It's hard to teach your child manners when the person they're speaking to exclaims "Oh don't call me 'ma'am,' that's for old ladies!" I do not mind being called Miss or Ma'am, but I do have a peeve about being referred to as "the young lady" by men who are younger than I am. That's just patronizing.

    In addition, the feminist movement complicated things. "I'm a woman. You don't have to call me a lady, or a girl. And please don't call me a chick or a broad."

    Women are correctly addressed as:
    Madam (though it's never used in the US, it's still correct)

    Women are correctly referred to as:
    The lady
    The woman

    Young women are correctly referred to as:
    The girl
    The young lady
    The young woman
  30. Englishmypassion

    Englishmypassion Senior Member

    India - Hindi

    Thank you very much, ma'am. I also wish I had some very RESPECTFUL word to address a woman, that would make every woman feel pleased :) and have no offensive connotation whatsoever.
  31. Mahantongo

    Mahantongo Senior Member

    English (U.S.)
    Actually, that is not correct. There are, for example, 3,000 employees of the New York City Police Department who are not police officers, but who are instead known as traffic agents (the full title being "traffic enforcement agent".) They wear a different uniform, and their duties consist primarily of issuing tickets to illegally parked cars, directing traffic at intersections, and towing cars for various different reasons.

    And to keep this on topic, in New York a polite traffic agent would address a motorist whose name was unknown as "Sir" or "Ma'am" (rhymes with "ham") or "Miss", and a polite motorist would address the traffic agent as "Ma'am" or "Sir". (And yes, I know that in the UK these honorifics would not be used the same way.)

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