Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

December 8, 2009

Ma'am-ed #2

I love Julian's post this morning about getting "ma'am-ed" but I want to set her mind at ease, because it is the only non-offensive word of respect permissible today.

When people used more formal forms of address (Miss, Mrs., Sir, Mr., etc.), any anonymous woman who looked under 30-ish was addressed as "Miss" regardless of marital state. So, if you went into a shop, you would be addressed as "Miss" by the clerk. If someone bumped into you on the bus, he'd say "Excuse me Miss."

But, with the rise of mainstream feminism in the 60's and 70's, "Miss"--once a complimentary term--was suddenly an insult, and all single women were addressed formally as "Ms." But saying "Ms." is dreadful (mzzzzzzzzzzz) and besides, if you're not careful, it sounds a lot like "Miss."

So we resorted to the next best thing: "ma'am." "Ma'am" has never had any marital connotations, and in certain geographical regions (the south) it has always been used as a sign of respect. So it was the natural choice.

All the same--I do wish "Miss" wasn't lost in the battle for equality (...). I completely agree with Julian--I'd like to be called "Miss" too. But, I'd rather be called "Ma'am" than nothing. Ma'am will do.

A funnier take on this phenomenon, via my favorite, Mary Tyler Moore:

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