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A forum for discussing US dialects (accents).

Postby Huny » Thu Jun 29, 2006 5:30 pm

When I was growing up in CA, it was thought of as sarcastic or smart-mouthed when referring to someone as Sir or Ma'am ( unless you were in the military). But when I moved to the south, all the rules of casual life changed for me. I had to really teach myself that It was a sign of respect and that it was important to show it. My best buddy from Florida went through the same thing when she moved here. She has instilled this upon her own two small children and they address everyone as Sir or Ma'am. I had a run in with a woman once that addressed me as Miss, not Mrs. or Ma'am or hey, you, just Miss. With my being 36 years of age and married, this greatly ticked me off. I felt, judging by her tone, she was being sarcastic. I'm still not sure what that was all about that day or what to make of it but I still hear people address others this way.
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Postby sluggo » Thu Jun 29, 2006 7:19 pm

Huny wrote:When I was growing up in CA, it was thought of as sarcastic or smart-mouthed when referring to someone as Sir or Ma'am ( unless you were in the military). But when I moved to the south, all the rules of casual life changed for me. I had to really teach myself that It was a sign of respect and that it was important to show it. My best buddy from Florida went through the same thing when she moved here. She has instilled this upon her own two small children and they address everyone as Sir or Ma'am. I had a run in with a woman once that addressed me as Miss, not Mrs. or Ma'am or hey, you, just Miss. With my being 36 years of age and married, this greatly ticked me off. I felt, judging by her tone, she was being sarcastic. I'm still not sure what that was all about that day or what to make of it but I still hear people address others this way.


In some circles choosing Miss over Mrs. used to reflect the presumed age of a stranger, thus Miss would be the usual inane compliment on a woman's (lack of) age. On the other hand when I was learning French I remember being taught that when addressing an adult woman stranger you choose Madame rather than Mademoiselle, on the basis that, as they said at the time, you "pay her the complement of assuming she is married" (there's a loaded sentence).

Nonetheless Huny I'm sure in your example the intonation was everything- you can put so much sarcasm into the pronunciation of what on the surface is perfectly polite. Makes me think of the recently-deceased Lloyd Bentsen, after dropping the verbal bomb on Dan Quayle "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" followed by Quayle's retort "That was uncalled-for, Senator"; Bentsen shot back, "you're the one who drew the comparison, Senator..." his voice saturated with sarcasm on the title, thoroughly reversing its lofty implications. Intonation goes a long way.
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Postby gailr » Thu Jun 29, 2006 8:21 pm

sluggo wrote:On the other hand when I was learning French I remember being taught that when addressing an adult woman stranger you choose Madame rather than Mademoiselle, on the basis that, as they said at the time, you "pay her the complement of assuming she is married" (there's a loaded sentence).
...
Nonetheless Huny I'm sure in your example the intonation was everything- you can put so much sarcasm into the pronunciation of what on the surface is perfectly polite.

I once worked with a very nice, well-heeled older lady who used madam. However, she only 'busted it out' for trophy wives who bullied shop clerks as a hobby. The way she intoned madam when addressing such status poseurs...

[digression]or would that be poseusses? Help me, monsieur stargzer! [/digression] :lol:

...always brought to mind the other meaning of the word. They heard the subtext clearly, and in deference to her age and status, generally reined themselves in.

btw: she hated being ma'am'd, too!

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Postby Huny » Thu Jun 29, 2006 8:42 pm

sluggo wrote:
Huny wrote:When I was growing up in CA, it was thought of as sarcastic or smart-mouthed when referring to someone as Sir or Ma'am ( unless you were in the military). But when I moved to the south, all the rules of casual life changed for me. I had to really teach myself that It was a sign of respect and that it was important to show it. My best buddy from Florida went through the same thing when she moved here. She has instilled this upon her own two small children and they address everyone as Sir or Ma'am. I had a run in with a woman once that addressed me as Miss, not Mrs. or Ma'am or hey, you, just Miss. With my being 36 years of age and married, this greatly ticked me off. I felt, judging by her tone, she was being sarcastic. I'm still not sure what that was all about that day or what to make of it but I still hear people address others this way.


In some circles choosing Miss over Mrs. used to reflect the presumed age of a stranger, thus Miss would be the usual inane compliment on a woman's (lack of) age. On the other hand when I was learning French I remember being taught that when addressing an adult woman stranger you choose Madame rather than Mademoiselle, on the basis that, as they said at the time, you "pay her the complement of assuming she is married" (there's a loaded sentence).

Nonetheless Huny I'm sure in your example the intonation was everything- you can put so much sarcasm into the pronunciation of what on the surface is perfectly polite. Makes me think of the recently-deceased Lloyd Bentsen, after dropping the verbal bomb on Dan Quayle "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" followed by Quayle's retort "That was uncalled-for, Senator"; Bentsen shot back, "you're the one who drew the comparison, Senator..." his voice saturated with sarcasm on the title, thoroughly reversing its lofty implications. Intonation goes a long way.


Indeed! I find that this sarcasm is an indication of just how uncouth a person can be, provided the persons are not in a battle of the wits against one another as in your Lloyd Bentsen example. I remember that verbal wit-slinging well. I wonder if this type of intonation is just one of many examples of why some countries find us Americans in general as rude :?: (Or did I simply missunderstand her verbal blunder as a sign of being clueless on her own part?)
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Postby sluggo » Thu Jun 29, 2006 10:27 pm

Huny wrote:
sluggo wrote:
Huny wrote:]

Indeed! I find that this sarcasm is an indication of just how uncouth a person can be, provided the persons are not in a battle of the wits against one another as in your Lloyd Bentsen example. I remember that verbal wit-slinging well. I wonder if this type of intonation is just one of many examples of why some countries find us Americans in general as rude :?: (Or did I simply missunderstand her verbal blunder as a sign of being clueless on her own part?)


Nah, I think sarcasm is a fine linguistic art, the question being how one uses it. We are found rude because we are wrapped up in ourselves, believe the world revolves around us and can't be bothered to learn a thing about other cultures, customs or languages. (Of course none of that applies to anyone on this board...)

Hard to say for sure what was intended in your incident- as has been established, differing customs apply, but I'd put more value on the intonation you heard than anything else. You can say something totally irrelevant, like "CLOUD!", to your dog, but if you say it in an angry voice she'll cower. Intonation can convey any basic emotion on its own, so I think it's the most powerful aspect.
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Postby sluggo » Thu Jun 29, 2006 10:33 pm

gailr wrote:
sluggo wrote:....when addressing such status poseurs...

[digression]or would that be poseusses? Help me, monsieur stargzer! [/digression] :lol: ...
-gailr


As Sylvester might say, "I hate posuesses to puces!" :wink: (deuces? muses?)
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Postby AdoAnnie » Fri Jun 30, 2006 6:07 pm

We are found rude because we are wrapped up in ourselves, believe the world revolves around us and can't be bothered to learn a thing about other cultures, customs or languages.


Not just Americans, I was living in Spain for a while and overheard a well heeled Brit tourist struggle with making change at the bar (where I worked) then loudly suggest, in her best posh Brit accent, "Why can't they just speak English?!" I nearly fell out and for nothing would I help translate for her. :roll: :wink:
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Postby skinem » Fri Jun 30, 2006 6:27 pm

No one corner of the earth has the market cornered on ignorance or bigotry.

As someone raised in a Southern (U.S.) family and a military one at that, I was definitely raised to "yes, sir" and yes, maam" people and have found it amusing to see the different reactions. Some find it polite, some endearing, others are offended. I raised my children the same way and my brother-in-law, (new to us at the time) told me he thought it was way too formal for your children to say "yes, sir" or "Sir?" if they didn't hear or understand. I told him I disagreed with him, but did agree that the saluting and heel-clicking may appear that way...
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Postby Bailey » Fri Jun 30, 2006 6:51 pm

Huny wrote: I had a run in with a woman once that addressed me as Miss, not Mrs. or Ma'am or hey, you, just Miss. With my being 36 years of age and married, this greatly ticked me off. I felt, judging by her tone, she was being sarcastic. I'm still not sure what that was all about that day or what to make of it but I still hear people address others this way.
I wonder how this works in Mexico, I heard an American Woman retort with an angry look (more honest than sarcasm, I think), "Senhora" when addressed as a "Senorita".

mark, do not call me sir, Bailey
I was Drill-Sargented by my father too, he was really harsh, as a Major he didn't need to treat us so hard but he didn't know anything else.

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Postby Brazilian dude » Fri Jun 30, 2006 7:07 pm

I wonder how this works in Mexico, I heard an American Woman retort with an angry look (more honest than sarcasm, I think), "Senhora" when addressed as a "Senorita".

This happens (or used to happen) all the time here as well. Anyway, people don't seem to be using senhorita that much around these parts any more.

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Postby gailr » Fri Jun 30, 2006 7:31 pm

skinem wrote: ... I raised my children the same way and my brother-in-law, (new to us at the time) told me he thought it was way too formal for your children to say "yes, sir" or "Sir?" if they didn't hear or understand. I told him I disagreed with him, but did agree that the saluting and heel-clicking may appear that way...

Officer on deck! :lol:
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Postby AdoAnnie » Sat Jul 01, 2006 6:50 pm

Another child raised in the South by a military parent, but even if dad hadn't been military my parents were raised with sir and ma'am and would have raised us that way anyway. It was considered common courtesy. More than once when I have been out with my 19 yr old daughter and she has smiled and said 'yes, sir' or 'yes, ma'am' to a stranger when making a request or answering a question, I've been told by that person how refreshing it is to see a young person with manners.

I'm really sad to hear that using respectful appellatives is considered rude or dissing of one's age or cynical. I work directing a group of roughneck men at a manufacturing plant and I get more cooperation and work out of these guys for using please, thank you, and offering appreciation in the form of compliments for their effort than any of my male colleagues. And they all answer me with 'ma'am'. I take it as an honorific of respect. My mamma always said a little courtesy goes a long way. She said that thing about flies and honey, too, and all sorts of other truly Southernisms. But if it works, it works. :D
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Postby gailr » Sat Jul 01, 2006 9:41 pm

AdoAnnie wrote:I'm really sad to hear that using respectful appellatives is considered rude or dissing of one's age or cynical.

I know it sounds as though us "anti-ma'am'ers" are advocating either bad manners or a freewheeling familiarity. I don't think that's the intention; it's difficult to articulate the cultural division on this one.

Many of us were raised to "sir" and "ma'am" adults in authority; a different status than those only slightly older than ourselves. Maybe that's what's so grating to some ears about being "ma'am'd"--especially the first time--by teens or those in the early-20's. It just does not automatically imply the courtesy or respect it does in the US south, however much any of us might wish it did. The clear subtext is that "you are old, ma'am". Being ma'am'd by someone of my generation or older doesn't raise the same hackles, any more than being addressed as "Miss" by a courteous adult did when I was under 21.

Considering that the US north was settled by European immigrants with some codified age and gender perceptions, this is an interesting phenomenon. Perhaps it has more to do with a culture that increasingly woos and glorifies youth (especially for females), than to inherent bad manners?

At any rate, being ma'am'd by smirking teens no longer makes me want to growl like a rabid ferret and beat them about the head and shoulders with an over-sized handbag, packed carefully for just this purpose with giant designer wallet; tissues; cell phone; hand sanitizer; spare keys; case with backup bifocals and emergency glasses repair kit; gum; address book; makeup bag with 2-sided mirror; keychain flashlight; cigarettes and lighter; items to horrify men; Stephen King, "Left Behind" or "harley-kin" [sic] paperback; envelope stuffed with store coupons; reminder cards for upcoming doctor, dentist, beautician, Spinning class; PTA and/or vet appointments; manicure set and clear polish; cough drops; spare pantyhose; aspirin; mace; assorted ballpoint pens and pencils; old theater tickets...

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Postby Stargzer » Sat Jul 01, 2006 9:41 pm

Bailey wrote: . . . I wonder how this works in Mexico, I heard an American Woman retort with an angry look (more honest than sarcasm, I think), "Senhora" when addressed as a "Senorita". . . .
. . .



I at first wondered, in a politically incorrect sort of way, if said American Woman would be better described if her retort were spelled with a "w" after the "n" and another "e" in lieu of the final vowel; but then I came to my senses and realized I must apologize; putting her in that category would be an insult to those hard-working women.
Regards//Larry

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Postby Huny » Sat Jul 01, 2006 10:15 pm

gailr wrote:At any rate, being ma'am'd by smirking teens no longer makes me want to growl like a rabid ferret and beat them about the head and shoulders with an over-sized handbag, packed carefully for just this purpose with giant designer wallet; tissues; cell phone; hand sanitizer; spare keys; case with backup bifocals and emergency glasses repair kit; gum; address book; makeup bag with 2-sided mirror; keychain flashlight; cigarettes and lighter; items to horrify men; Stephen King, "Left Behind" or "harley-kin" [sic] paperback; envelope stuffed with store coupons; reminder cards for upcoming doctor, dentist, beautician, Spinning class; PTA and/or vet appointments; manicure set and clear polish; cough drops; spare pantyhose; aspirin; mace; assorted ballpoint pens and pencils; old theater tickets...

gailr :wink:


You forgot the Tums, oh, and let's not forget the ever so chic fashion accessory, a Chihuahua! (for added weight) :) ..Oh, man, am I ever getting crass in my young age!!!
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