The Queen of My Self

Here are more responses from readers to Natalie Angier’s article “Just Don’t Call Me …,” (New York Times, Week in Review, Aug. 29, 2010):

To the Editor:
Having said “ma’am” all my life to be polite, I read “Just Don’t Call Me …” with chagrin. To learn that “ma’am” is outmoded because it makes women feel old has me feeling, well, old.

– Mark Weston, Armonk, NY

To the Editor:
Natalie Angier’s discussion of the term “ma’am” in society was revealing to this native Southerner, whose mother taught him to say “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am” without fail. What a pity that some women cannot accept a term of respect when it is offered. Another aspect of civility is lost.

– Hunter George, Birmingham, AL

To the Editor:
Many people object wrongly, I think, to the term “ma’am.” If the queen of England is content with that form of address, which is nothing more than a title of respect, irrespective of age, how can one take umbrage?

Now, when I hear “Move your car, lady,” I see red. That’s patronizing.

– Helen Benardo, Bronx, NY

To the Editor:
I do not have a problem with anyone calling me “ma’am.” What I hate and find totally insulting is when a man calls me “young lady” when we both know it’s a lie. 

– Susan Immergut, New York, NY

This from the Wikipedia explanation of Ma’am:

Ma’am – 1660s colloquial shortening of madam (q.v.). Formerly the ordinary respectful form of address to a married woman; later restricted to the queen, royal princesses, or by servants to their mistresses.
n. – A woman of refinement.

After addressing her as “Your Majesty” once, it is correct to address The Queen of the United Kingdom as “Ma’am” for the remainder of a conversation, with the pronunciation as in “ham” and not as in “chum” or “farm.”

Usage of “Ma’am” is becoming increasingly uncommon in the United States and in Western Canada and is already out of common usage in Australia, New Zealand and England.

In the past, the term was to be used only for married women, In practice, however, those who cling to the use of the term “Ma’am” tend to address only older women this way, while they address younger women as “Miss.”
Because of this age divide, most U.S. women object to the use of “Ma’am” or “Miss” as addresses as there is no formal equal address for a younger man in common use. Men are always called “Sir”, whether they are 18 or 80, while an 18-year old woman would be called “Miss,” and a 40-year old woman “Ma’am.”
As of 2010, most American women equate the label “Ma’am” as meaning “Old lady” and eschew its use. In fact, in 2009 the European Union issued guidance against the use of status-specific titles for women as the title for men, Mr., makes no reference to a man’s marital status. By the same token, the use of “Ma’am” for women over 40 and of “Miss” for women in their teens, twenties and thirties is seen as expressing the same sexism.

As society progresses, it is now more common to state, “Would you like milk with your tea this evening?” rather than, “Would you like milk with your tea, Ma’am.” The former query is inclusive, as it does not label the person to whom the question is being made and therefore does not offend. The latter sentence does label the person being questioned, and is more likely to offend than to not offend.

How do YOU feel about being called ma’am?

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to


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