Ask Laskas: “Is Ma’am Offensive?”

Jeanne Marie Laskas writes our magazine's monthly advice column; now it's your turn to help solve readers' problems.

Ask Laskas: “Is Ma’am Offensive?”

Reader Question: I’m the youngest person at my current job, and I’m naturally inclined to address upper management as “sir” or “ma’am.” However, I’ve received some backlash on using these respectful terms. Whats the big deal? Have people really become that sensitive? I still see nothing wrong with my courteous mannerisms.
—Perplexed Youngster

What’s your take? Give your best advice in the comments below, and your answer might appear in the magazine.

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  • Your Comments

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    • Barbara

      In the upper strata of old southern society, ma’am and sir were only to be used by servants or shopkeepers, in deference to their ‘betters’. It was considered the height of indelicacy for a child to call his mother ‘ma’am’, or his father ‘sir’. My great-grandmother had a conniption fit when one of my cousins called her ‘ma’am’ once. As I had already been fully indoctrinated by my mother (who had been indoctrinated by her father), I was fortunate enough not to make that mistake.

    • PJ Sluder

      I’m a 43 year old male that served in the US Army and can vividly recall the drill sergeant from basic training screaming at another private “Sir?! You don’t call me sir, I WORK for a living!” He was referring to the fact that the titles “Sir” and “Ma’am” were reserved for officers. However, now at my advanced age I not only cringe when called sir because it makes me feel old, I get downright angry. I feel as though you are implying that I am old. In the workplace try replacing “Yes sir.” with “I’ll get right on that.” if asked to perform a task or “Absolutely.” if asked a question requiring a positive answer.

    • Anonymous

      Depends on your job. I’m an accountant and we just call eachother by our first names.

      I’m not typically a formal person either but if a stranger refers to me as m’am, I realize they are being formal and respond in kind with m’am or sir to them such as “excuse me ma’m” “oh, no problem sir” or “no problem m’am”

    • Ilgendolls

      Addressing your elders at work or play, as Miss or Sir is  showing RESPECT for that indiviual.  What I HATE is being called “Sweetie”, “Honey”, etc. by a waitress!  Worse is addressing the same to my husband.  He is NOT your “Sweetie”, he’s MINE.

    • Anthony482

      i was 24 and someone called me sir, my stomach sank into my balls .. do i look that old to you? lol

    • lisaS

      also the main defense I hear of Ma’am is that it is courteous or polite and if people dont appreciate it that is their problem.  Ideally the whole point of politeness is to make others feel good.  In this defense of Ma’am it seems more as if iat is utilised to make the person saying it feel as if they are well bred and polite rather than to actually make someone feel good.  Even if I deem something polite due to my upbringing, however I know that it makes many people feel bad about themselves I think I would let go of my need to make myself feel good that I was polite in that instance.

    • AnnieSummers

      I find it very offensive.  It actually just plain makes me feel bad.  (most of my friends agree).  It makes me feel like I look older and not cute and sexy.  If someone thinks I happen to look older than them , over 30 whatever I cant control that but it doesnt feel very good to have them point it out. We all have bad “hair, face, skin, weight” days.  Usually if someone notices it is best they keep it to themselves. 

    • Dsb539

      I’d reply that I was brought up with manners and I was expected to be polite to others. 

    • Dsb539

      I’d reply that I was brought up with manners and I was expected to be polite to others.