"Ma’am" Kind of a simple word, don’t you think? Not one to set people’s teeth on edge. But, for several weeks, this word’s been an ongoing topic in a local newspaper.
Being an opinionated sort, I thought I’d just jump in and add my two cents worth.
First, though, a story.
The other night, my beloved wife indicated that we were low on milk and that I’d better pull myself away from watching my prized collection of "Victory at Sea" videotapes, get up, and go get some.
I recognized the tone of her voice as being in the "do it now or else" register that wives can adopt when they believe husbands aren’t doing much of anything useful. Not having any milk for our granddaughter’s evening bottle might also have had something to do with her missing the importance of my watching "Ring Around Rabaul" for the umpteenth time.
Anyway, I went to get the milk and pulled into the local mini-mart just seconds behind a rough looking gentleman who was riding a very large and very loud motorcycle. My guess is that he checked in at about 250 to 270 pounds with major portions of said poundage being somewhat evenly divided between stomach, ponytail, tattoos, leathers and beard.
I was a couple of feet behind him as he reached the door. When he got there, though, he opened it and stood there holding it for me as I approached and went through. He then followed me in.
I said a quick "Thank you" to which he answered "No problem." That said, we both went on about our business. His had to do with beer. Mine was the milk I’ve already mentioned.
Here’s my point.
Did I think this gentleman was implying that I couldn’t open a door for myself?
Did I think he was saying that I looked so puny as to not be his equal in all matters male?
What I did think was that it was pretty nice to have been on the receiving end of a simple act of courtesy.
Which brings me back to this "ma’am" kerfuffle.
Several weeks ago, a local individual wrote a letter to the editor about being called "ma’am." I’ve since learned that she had a very good reason for being upset. It isn’t that she resents the term at all. Rather, her letter - which was misunderstood even by yours truly - was to let off steam over someone who was repeatedly and sarcastically using the term even after she’d politely asked the person - many times – to stop.
That, in my book, falls under the category of bad manners and would probably have me running on for 800 words or so some Monday morning.
I know that every generation has said that things are going to hell in a handbasket but, these days, I think I could make a pretty good case that it’s actually happening. This is especially true when what you tend to see – without having to look very hard – is rudeness, bad behavior, and foul language on a scale that my parents and grandparents would have considered outrageous.
I also know that there are many families who still teach such things as: "Always be polite." "Lend a hand." "Open doors for others." "Give up your seat to someone who needs it more than you." "Remember that the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are always appreciated." "Never call anyone by their first name until given permission to do so." And, "Always use ‘Mister’ or ‘Miss’ and ‘Sir’ or Ma’am’ in conversations with strangers, new acquaintances, or elders."
I’m kind of glad this "ma’am’ thing came up because the responses that’ve been printed are reassuring. They let me know that many people still hold to the old and mannerly ways. Unfortunately, I think their numbers are dwindling. I could be wrong but, somehow, I don’t think so. I guess it’s just my turn to think that things are going to hell in a handbasket.
I’d like to say one final thing about the word "ma’am." Down south (where I was fortunate enough to have been raised), the term is used so frequently that it’s ingrained in everyone’s speech patterns along with the ability to properly use the terms "ya’ll" and "ya’ll all" in any setting.
And, to the gentlewoman who wrote that letter, I sincerely hope that when others use that term, you won’t paint us with the same brush as the person who’s been impolitely abusing it.