Discussion in 'English Only' started by ScienceDay, Sep 28, 2006.

  1. ScienceDay Member

    It appears like this word is starting to become impolite to use. Many women are now saying it makes them seem old to be called that. I personally avoid using the word "ma'am".
  2. chat9998 Senior Member

    English, US
    Hi Scienceday,

    I agree. Many women seem to be offended by it, because it makes them sound "old". It's similar to how the use of Fräulein in German has become somewhat derogatory, whereas it used to just mean "young girl." I'm not sure why, but I agree it has a connotation of "old" to it, too.

    Did you have a specific question, or were you just hoping to spark a conversation about this? :)

    God bless,
  3. chesty Senior Member


    Doesn't one refer to the Queen of England as Ma'am?
  4. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Perhaps, in fact, "many women" do object to the term. I have yet to meet one of them.

    Is there a question or topic here?
  5. maxiogee Banned

    I would hazard a guess that you are associating with an age-range of women who are not-as-young-as-they-used-to-be.
    For every dozen times they are addressed by shop assistants
    … the number of times they hear miss :thumbsup: is falling, and
    … the number of times they hear ma'am :thumbsdown: is rising.
    I'm becoming sir — ugh! :D
  6. Tatzingo

    Tatzingo Senior Member

    Where on Earth??
    English, UK
    In some situations, Ma'am is a compulsory form of address. Lawyers in the UK have to address certain (and by "certain", i mean those who preside over some of the lower courts) female judges as Ma'am and their male colleagues as "Sir".

  7. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Is there something insulting about being other than young?
    Don't all young people hope, or at least expect, to become old?

    What is impolite about a word that may imply that one is less young than at another time? Is truth-telling impolite?
  8. maxiogee Banned

    Do not make the mistake of confusing aging with getting old.
    People try to put us d-down (talkin bout my generation)
    Just because we g-g-get around (talkin bout my generation)
    Things they do look awful c-c-cold (talkin bout my generation)
    Yeah, I hope I die before I get old (talkin bout my generation)
  9. Sallyb36

    Sallyb36 Senior Member

    Liverpool UK
    British UK
    I always think of Americans when I hear this word!
  10. Iona Senior Member

    English England
  11. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Wet-behind-the-ears may be substituted for "Ma'am" if that will make everyone feel the appropriate measure of self-esteem. I wonder if the elusive "many women" mentioned in the first post would prefer to be called 'girl' or 'kid'.
  12. chat9998 Senior Member

    English, US
    Hi cuchuflete,

    You seem to have a bit of disbelief about this whole situation... but I can personally attest to having said "ma'am" to women before (for reference, in their early 30's or 40's), and they have literally said back to me, "Ma'am? I'm not that old!" I'm not sure where the connotation that "ma'am" means old came from - as far as I understand, "Madame" is used for anyone over about twenty in the original French it came from. But I do know that many women find it offensive; all the same, there are also many women who do not care at all. :)

    God bless,
  13. Iona Senior Member

    English England
    It's interesting you should say that .. there's a shop in the UK called 'Chelsea Girl' which caters for .. women ... they began a male equivalent and it was called 'Chelsea Man' NOT 'Chelsea boy' ... no , women are not 'allowed' to grow older . Look at any women's magazine ....
    OK ,you came up with 'wet behind the ears ' (rather sweet) but objectively speaking there are many more insult terms for the old than for the young (unless of course we're talking about women (not men) who choose to have multiple sexual partners ..and then the sky is the limit in choice-but that's another subject )
    I agree with you ,it should not be insulting to be less than young - words attached to the old SHOULD NOT be negative .. so why is it people on this thread are saying what they believe i.e ma'am has a connotation old ..and old is not sought after -now why is that I wonder ? because they are speaking the truth ...
    Personally ,I have no hang up about being called ma'am ..'girl 'and 'wet behind the ears' are not terms of address where I come from .. and if someone said 'Miss' .. I'm honest ..I'd be flattered ... because I too am influenced by the words around me ... ah yes .. powerful things words!
  14. Iona Senior Member

    English England
    Sorry Chat 998 - I was answering chuchflete - I was very interested in what you had to say though:)
  15. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    In Southern AE "ma'am" is alive and well. Any younger person would address a woman of greater age (or higher station) as "ma'am," and in the matter of a boy or young man using that form of address, the age difference can be slight to none. The implication being, I guess, that a young lady holds a higher station than a young gentleman.

    All very contrary to egalitarian and of course feminist thinking, but as I said-- alive and well in Dixie.
  16. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    We seem to have at least three conversations going on at once.

    -Whether the word "ma'am" is becoming offensive to some women, as they presumably take it to be an age marker, and they do not wish to be perceived as being as old as they appear or are;
    -Whether the phenomenon referenced above actually exists in any significant measure...so far we have two people who say that it does, and one who hasn't come across it, but acknowledges that it may exist.
    -The obvious preponderance of negative words for old vs. disparaging terms for the young.

    Directing myself only to the issue of whether it is impolite to use the word in addressing a female, I would have to say that it is not impolite to use a word that has been a term of respect for a very long time. If some, or even many, people have recently decided that the word implies age, and they don't like age, then we have a case of intended respect--or at least perfunctory courtesy-- colliding with an inference of insult. May the womens' magazines and other worthy arbiters try to settle that one!

    No, I wouldn't go out of my way to use the word to a person who is obviously uncomfortable with it, for whatever good or bad reasons. Nor would I strive to strike it from my vocabulary on the off chance that someone wants to be forever youthful in appearance, and just might feel a twinge of uncomfortable reality from time to time.

    In the backwards part of the world where I live, it is entirely a non-issue. That said, one addresses a woman as "Miss" at the genuine risk of loss of life and limb. I think that, given the history of "Miss", its loss is a good thing.

    So, to those 'many' (both of you) who are convinced that many women take umbrage at being called 'Ma'am', and without accusing either of you of finding merit in such reactions, just what do you suggest as a more neutral substitute?

    Young-hearted geezer,
  17. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    How about "toots?"
  18. Iona Senior Member

    English England
    Where I come from in depends on who is being addressed and by whom .. can I help you love /dear/duck /luvvy? is friendly (woman to man /man to woman/woman to woman .. in shops anyway ) Can I give you a hand mate ? is also used between men ... otherwise people just smile and say 'hello ,can I help you? ' this is pleasant ...
    My students address me as Mrs then my surname ... because I look old enough to be married (it's true that students never know the marital status of the male lecturers ( Mr )and in any case MS isn't easy to pronounce .If I go to a posh shop(rare) I'm addressed as Madam (Modom) Miss is used for someone younger ..or used to flatter older women (watch Patsy Stone in 'Ab Fab' - who insists on being called 'Miss')-AND yes , we want to believe it's true because no ,we don't want to look old ! this is the real problem in many parts of the world today to be young is more desirable ...or rather to be old is undesirable .OK it shouldn't be so BUT it is .. fortunes are made through this desire ,faces are lifted , bottoms must defy gravity etc etc
    So ,if someone gets miffed by being called ma'am .. I can understand it ..we've lived for years in a world where the world 'old' is usually attached to past its sell by date!
    by the way Firebrand ,nice to know they are so polite in 'Dixie' ..I had a friend who went to Tennissee last year and was addressed as 'boy' (he's black) now how polite was that -he is thirty-eight !
  19. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Thanks for that, Miss!

    What do you think about self-censorship of the word Ma'am because some women have bought into the rot about 'younger is better'? Should we pander to a wrong-headed notion by adjusting our language to accommodate the feelings of those who don't respect themselves for having lived a few more years? You and I agree, it appears, that older is older, and not less than or worse than younger, except in terms of expected longevity. Now let's get back to the language part of this. Should we abandon the word "Ma'am" to satisfy somebody's vanity?

    Some young men recently called me "Pops!" to get my attention. That's a term I used to use for much older men when I was just beginning to shave. It got my attention. It is a very colloquial way to address an older man around here.
    It is not meant to be insulting, but I'm sure some fellows wouldn't like it, just because it shows that they look their age, and they don't like their age. Should that be of concern to the adolescents who use the term? Should those young folks substitute "Esteemed and dapper Sir"? That might make the codgers feel good.
  20. Iona Senior Member

    English England
    cuchuflete - Thanks for that, Miss -

    Oh dear ..I have upset you haven't I !

    You ask me about the word 'pops'- well , if it's true that this isn't rude where you come from .. why not ...but then you went on to say
    It is not meant to be insulting, but I'm sure some fellows wouldn't like it, just because it shows that they look their age, and they don't like their age ... so then it's up to you if you wish causing offence or not ..but what's the point in doing that anyway ?..(unless you just want to prove a point I suppose )
    "Esteemed and dapper Sir"? That might make the codgers feel good.
    I've never heard that one ...but ,I suppose if it's less offensive than Pops ..but why are you addressing him in terms of his outward appearance anyway ?
    night mate
  21. Kookland Member

    Scotland, English
    I absolutely hate being called "sir" if it's said with a Scottish accent, though for some reason I don't mind it as much if it's pronounced how an Englishman or American would pronounce it.

    "ma'am" to me sounds like a lazy reduction of the word "madam".

Share This Page