DEAR ABBY: I may be alone in my thoughts on this subject, but I feel that addressing a woman as "ma'am" is an extremely derogatory term. I believe it is a derivative of "mammy" and simply a way of keeping a woman in her place.
How would any man like to be called "geezer" or "old goat" on a regular basis? I regard "ma'am" in the same negative light.
How can I politely, yet firmly, respond to those who persist in their rude behavior when I am called "ma'am?"
DEFINITELY NOT YOUR MA'AM IN SOUTH CAROLINA
DEAR DEFINITELY NOT: You must be a recent transplant to the South, because south of the Mason-Dixon (and also in the military), to address a woman as "ma'am" shows respect. I don't know where you got the idea that "ma'am" is a derivative of "mammy," but it's a huge mistake, and I hope you haven't said it to anyone else.
"Ma'am" is a contraction of the word "madam," a form of respectful address to an adult -- usually married -- woman. If you prefer to be called something else, ask the person to call you "Lisa," "Ms. Jones," etc. But please don't pick a fight, or you will look foolish.
Shouldn't "Definitely Not" have sent this to Miss Manners instead, or is that column even around anymore? (I never liked Miss Manners, but it seems more a question for her than Jerry Springer... err, "Abby".)
I don't think I'd used the word "ma'am" to address a woman more than once or twice when I lived in California. It would have been awkard and maybe not even well accepted by the receiver. My parents did teach me some manners, but that particular address (as well as Sir) seemed out of place. Out here, it's expected. Heck, I even call Jen "Ma'am" from time to time, not out of sarcasm, but out of the respect that the word carries. And I use it whenever we go out, especially when we're on vacation here in the South.
Jen doesn't care for using the Sir or Ma'am in her own speech, but she'll refer to a woman as Miss _____, which she said comes from the North (Connecticut). I just can't see myself doing it, though I think I tried once.
"Definitely Not" should have consulted Wikipedia, at the very least, before making a fool of herself. Or maybe seen a few episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, which irked some Trekkies by having a female captain, who is addressed as Ma'am as well as Sir and Captain.
I've never even heard of someone (out here) being offended by being called Sir or Ma'am...
See also: Wikipedia on Ma'am (redirects to Madam) and Mason-Dixon Line
Also, this was posted on the UDMB, the latest incarnation of the Disturbed board, where I met Jen. Click here to hear what Disturbed fans have to say about the DearAbby article.