Friday, September 10, 2010

Last word on ma'am

I went running today for the first time since I suppose June, and had the good fortune to notice an NPR interview with Natalie Angier about "ma'am" in my iTunes. Angier made some useful points that I wish I'd made at Amber's. Basically, the way Angier frames it, the issue is that ma'am is in theory about making social interaction more pleasant. If it no longer does so, and in fact irritates many recipients, then it's a problem. Contrarian blog-commenters will point out that they use/don't mind receiving ma'am. Fine. Enough women do, and (other than a MTF transgendered emailer to NPR, who did make a good gotcha point) exceedingly few women seem to have positive associations with receiving the term. And, Angier points out that the alternative to ma'am doesn't have to be a neologism, or calling even the elderly "miss," but that it's entirely possible to do away with honorifics in day-to-day life altogether. Politeness can be achieved in most situations with "please," "thank you," and "excuse me" alone. She also mentions that it's all but impossible to make one's dislike of being called "ma'am" known in a day-to-day situation without making a fool of one's self.

Finally, even though she spells out that she understands there are cultural variations, but that ma'am-as-way-of-making-women-of-a-certain-age-feel-awkward, aka ma'am-vs.-miss, has a life of its own outside the South and outside military life, the podcast was full of responses from Southerners and members of military families insisting that they were raised to ma'am. Things got a bit circular, but given that my activity while listening was running one direction only to run back the other way, it seemed about right.

Consider the dead horse beaten.

No comments: