Natalie Angier talks about the politics of polite and the division over whether being call "ma'am" is respectful or an insult.
Still, if you’re a woman born any
time before the Clinton administration, chances are you’ve been called
ma’am on more than one occasion — by solicitous waiters asking whether
you were “Done working on that, ma’am?” and hovering store clerks
wondering if they can “help you find anything, ma’am,” and traffic cops
telling you to “Move your car, ma’am, this isn’t a parking lot,” and the
perky, hardworking fellows at the farmers’ market who see you week
after week but will always cram so many ma’ams into every transaction
that you realize there’s no turning back, you’ve been ma’amed for life.
I'm very much in the ma'am-is-an-insult camp. I mean you might as well call me "grandma" or "wrinkle-face" or "too old to be seen in public." I hate it so much that if a waiter calls me "miss" rather than "ma'am," I'll give him a better tip.
I also hate Mrs., though not quite as much as ma'am. When kids call me Mrs. McKenna or even worse, Mrs. Husband's Last Name, I grit my teeth and tell them to call me Miss Laura. I'll even accept being called "Jonah's mother" over Mrs. McKenna.
Question of the Day: Is ma'am an insult?