When I turned 30, my best friend gave me a birthday card that read, “Happy Birthday, Ma’am.” Then on the inside: “Get used to it.” But I can’t. Six years and hundreds more “ma’ams” later, I still bristle every time I hear it.
So when I read Natalie Angier’s article, “The Politics of Polite,” it, well, it was like the article I’ve been meaning to write for six years.
Ma’am, a simple contraction of “madam” meant to show respect, instead, as Angier puts it so perfectly, “can feel like a tiny jab, an unnecessary station-break to comment on one’s appearance: Hello, middle-aged- to elderly-looking woman, how may I help you this evening?” Yes! That’s exactly what it feels like.
So until there is a linguistic equivalent that makes men self-conscious of their prematurely balding head or spare tire, I think we need to all agree to just stop saying “ma’am.” OK?