Thursday, January 10, 2008

I'm Not Ethel Merman... don't call me madam. Or ma'am. So help me Hannah; I know I've reached a certain age (as the French so delicately put it around their mouthfuls of escargot), but must I be reminded?

I take one class a semester at the university here in my home town. This term it's The Sociology of Humor, the first class was this evening, and I'm going to love it. During the initial class, the prof warned that humor involves language and other things some folks find offensive. As an example, he used the F-word, and said it was hard to give this talk when he had an 80 year old grandma sitting in the front row. I made the mistake of laughing and saying, "I'm a grandma!" He pointed out that I didn't look 80 (therefore he lives on) and the class moved forward.

At one point he mentioned some of his favorite comics, and George Carlin came up. I love Carlin, the man is a god, and I said so. After class, one of the other students, probably mid-to-late 20s, said he was a big fan of Carlin's, and we got to chatting. He said if I liked Carlin, I might like another comedian named Eddie Izzard.

Now, it so happens that Eddie is currently my screensaver, flitting about the screen in a fairy costume and dangling cigarette, so we had a serious bonding moment here. I was feeling very warmly toward this obviously brilliant young man of exceptional taste. And then it happened. He called me "ma'am!" He actually said that word several times.

Have I really come to this? How did I become a ma'am? I'm fairly cool; I listen to kids, I watch Jon Stewart and I have a good sense of humor. I don't care what you heard. I don't mind being shown respect...adulation is better, but I like respect....but ma'am???

I may need to go disco dancing, or talk to my pet rock, to get past this. I'll check my mood ring and let you know how I'm doing.


Marseille said...

If it's any consolation.....I'm 32, look to be about 10 years younger (or more?) and keep fighting the 'ma'am' thing. I think some people are just conditioned that it's 'ma'am' or 'sir'--no 'miss' option.

When I was in college, the fellow at the bagel shop I used to frequent *always* called me ma'am. I think he was older than I was.......though probably not by much.

MMario said...

Ma'am is a correct term of address for any marital status of adult woman, "Miss" makes a presumption regarding marital status - and "Ms." is fraught with many pitfalls.

Ma'am = being the contraction of "Madam" - which is indeed a term of great respect - though with connatations in this day and age most woman would prefer not to have associated with them.

Diana said...

MMario, assuming that I'm an adult is really a stretch! I know you're right, although growing up in the 70s means "Ms." as a title, if not form of address, is my preferred usage.

But ma'am?!? Heck, that's reserved for women old enough to be my mothe...oh, lord. :::banging head on keyboard:::

Rosemarie Buchanan said...

"Ms." has no pitfalls, other than personal preference and the ongoing need to educate people as to WHY there is such a prefix! I am speaking as a Ms. who hates "Ma'am", and even more "Mrs." ... I didn't marry my father, and at nearly 53, have never changed my last name because of marriage, or for any other silly reason!

One of the many examples: I was filling out a form of some kind, in front of a man (this was in MA), and there was no box for "Ms." for me to check off.

"Dr.", "Mr.", "Mrs." and "Miss", but no "Ms.". So I made a little box and put "Ms." beside it, and checked THAT off. The man on the other side of the counter sneered and said "so are you married or not?", and I simply looked at him and said "exactly".

And I asked him if he is Mr. whether or not he was married, and that my marital status was denoted in the title "Ms." as much as his was in the use of "Mr.".

He still didn't get it.

Although after living in the US for nearly 5 years, and the rest of my life here in Canada, "Ms." is used much more here in Canada. While in Massachusetts, if I corrected someone who called me "Mrs." with "Please use Ms.", they looked at me as if I were from another planet (which, in hindsight, I was! ;-)

Thankfully, I live in a small enough place that I am able to train (haha) the "Ma'am"ers to call me by my first name.

Connotations and tired old traditions are two of the reasons I love "Ms."!!!!

The folks who pump my gas at the local Co-op are great. I always get "Hi Rosemarie" with a little laugh, because they're all former "Ma'am"ers who have been enlightened!