Home » Life In General » Sir, Ma’am, Don’t Give a D#@*

Sir, Ma’am, Don’t Give a D#@*

When I was in the sixth grade, I spent a portion of the school year living with my grandmother in Pine Bluff, AR.  Pine Bluff was a looooooong way from the Los Angeles suburbs in which I’d spent my entire life.  But I loved it.  I learned how to jump double dutch, chased lightning bugs in the evenings, sat on the front porch and waved at folks who were passing by.  Pretty freaking idyllic.

My first day of school the teacher asked me a question.  Let’s pretend it was “So, you are from California?”

Little Nerd Girl:  Yes.

Teacher:  Yes, what?

LNG:  Yes, I am from California.

Teacher:  Yes, I am from California, what?

LNG:  Yes, I am from California Mrs. Jones.

Teacher:  Yes I am from California Mrs. Jones, what?

LNG:  I got nothing.

I could hear my classmates whispering a chant of some sort “maam, maam, maam, maam, maam.”


Finally someone said “you have to say yes ma’am.”  Um, okay.

And that was my introduction to ma’am and sir.  I used them the entirety of my time in Arkansas and dropped them like a bad habit once I hit the West Coast near the end of the summer.  My mom would get livid if I slipped up and ma’amed her.

I went to Pine Bluff in undergrad and picked up the sirs and ma’ams once again.  Then I married, moved further south to Mississippi and now I pretty much say sir and ma’am to anyone older than myself.

But.  I don’t make Lovegirl say it.  I don’t care anything about her calling me ma’am.  Her teachers at school make her say it and that’s fine with me, I just don’t make her say it at home.  Sometime she does, sometimes she doesn’t.  Eh.

I say it because it is expected by older folks, but truth be told I cringe whenever a parent makes their child “ma’am” me.  It just smacks of some throwback to well…slavery.  I can’t even explain why I feel this way, but I see the saying of “ma’am” and “sir” as hearkening back to the days when we had no choice but to say it.  Irrational?  Probably so.  I’ve never claimed not to be.

So dear, genteel readers where do you stand on “sir and ma’am?”  Good manners?  A throwback to days gone by?  Absolutely necessary for you and your children?  Could care less?

Sir?  Ma’am?  Don’t give a d#@*?  Where do you stand?


64 thoughts on “Sir, Ma’am, Don’t Give a D#@*

  1. I grew up in NYC and have never really referred to anyone as ma’am. My godson goes to Kentucky every summer and comes back calling everyone sir and ma’am. I think it definitely depends on where you grew up. I think it shows good manners, but it’s also outdated.

  2. I was born and raised in the Midwest to two parents from the South(Georgia and Kentucky). I’m sure it also didn’t help that my father was in the Air Force for 30 years. It was REQUIRED in our house to say yes sir/ma’am, no sir/ma’am, etc. to not only our parents but anyone who basically wasn’t a child. Now that I’m grown and have children of my own, they don’t have to say yes/no ma’am to me, but they do have to say “yes” and “no”. To other adults, they are to say yes/no sir or ma’am. I think it’s a sign of respect and manners. I do agree though, that where you grew up(location wise) definitely plays a part in this.

    • See, I don’t even make Lovegirl say it to other adults. And I feel like I’m doing her a bit of a disservice since she’s being raised in the South, but it is just not in me to make her say it.

  3. yes ma’am!!!!!! I am from the deeeeeep south and it’s a given you ma’am and sir everyone – everytime……my husband was so adamant about the kids being respectful, my boys even yes ma’am/no ma’am their sister and she is only six years older than them.rofl!!!!!!!!

    • Hmmm. Smoochy is Mississippi born and raised and he doesn’t make Lovegirl say it either. Now that I think about it, I don’t think Smoochy “sirs” his father…

  4. I use it every now and then but I definitely don’t require my kids to. As long as they use the necessary handle (Mr., Mrs. etc.) it’s fine with me. I think it is a regional thing though. Although I have lived in the south all my life, my parents never made me say it.

  5. Aidan must absolutely use ma’am and sir. I did grow up in the South, and that’s what I was taught by my elders, but Tim grew up in Oklahoma and got the same training. Also, the military sealed the deal. I’ve never equated it with slavery, though. People from other parts of the country tend to equate many Southern historical things with slavery, which isn’t surprising, but is sometimes incorrect. Probably because in all the movies they see, that’s where they’ve heard the term. The way we view it is an acknowledgement that we aren’t on the same level.

    I guess it’s become more socially acceptable to say “Ms. Psonya”, “Mr. Tim”, but Tim won’t even allow that. You call an adult by his or her last name. Y’all aren’t friends. I dated a guy that called his mom by her first name. She wanted me to do that, too. I was like “No, ma’am, that is NOT in me.” That is the utmost disrespect. Uh uh.

    • Why didn’t you tell me? Lovegirl will start calling you Mrs. Hackett straightaway!

      LOL! My mother-in-law wanted me to call her Poochie like everybody else. I couldn’t do it.

      • I said that we require Aidan to call by last names. It doesn’t bother me when kids call me Mrs. Psonya. But Lovegirl does call Tim “Mr. Hackett.” Hmph….I gets no respect. 🙂 J/K, she is free to continue on the path upon which we have already embarked.

        And Poochie? No ma’am! (pun intended)

    • Oh, and I guess I got the perception from my Mom? Even though she grew up in Arkansas saying it – and still says it when she’s talking to an elder from AR, she does not want to hear it from us. Like she wigged out the first time I said it to her.

  6. Ahhhhhhhhhh, the infamous ‘Yes what’? LOL

    It’s in my blood and was instilled in me with the same intensity that came with learning my ABC’s and 123’s. Growing up, it was seen by a majority of folks in my inner circle of life (if you will) as a major sign of disrespect and bad manners if that one key word was left off.

    Like you, I still address my (extreme) elders that way. My niece and nephews do it. That doesn’t bother me but I do cringe when a twenty-something says it to me. It makes me feel both weird and old.

    • Ugh. Why didn’t the lady just say what she wanted?!? Who goes around and around with a ten year old? Ridiculous!

      Some lady was making her kid call me ma’am and I wanted to say “she doesn’t have to say that,” but then I realized I can’t tell other people how to raise their kids – even when it comes to addressing me. Duh.

  7. For me yes and no are suffice. I was born, raised and still live in Charlotte, NC.I remember getting in trouble with my fourth grade teacher for not saying ma’am. I was and am super stubborn and refused. My mom was okay with it. I do say sir or ma’am to adults who are my clients. My adult children still call my friend Ms. Whatever, their first name is. I do the same with my mom’s friends. My 16 yo daughter does the same.

  8. Everybody is Miss, Sir, Ma’am, Auntie or Uncle to me. I am California born and raised by a West Indian mother. My mommy never made us call her ma’am but we had to address her as in “Yes, mommy”. Yeah or just yes would get you smacked.

    • I swore I was the only one! My mom is Trini. I was never allowed to answer anyone with just a simple “yes.” I can still hear my grandmother’s voice now, “Yes, whom?”

      • My mother is Nigerian and we had to do this too:

        “Yes Mummy”
        “Yes Daddy”. All day everyday. I still do it and 30 is knocking on my door.

  9. I was born and raised in NY (as were my parents), but my grandparents are from Aiken, SC and Augusta, GA. It’s been ingrained in me from a very early age to use the terms. Even now at 34, I use it around most elders. I have a few aunts and uncles (siblings to my parents) who let myself and other cousins start calling them by their first name when we turned 30. But to call a grownup, “Ms. First Name”? Nerp. I’d have a side eye or worse – a backhand. Hubs and I are in disagreement over what to teach our son.

  10. My mom never made us do it. Wow going back to Mississippi could be awkward sometimes. But there seemed to be some magical transition where they didn’t bother us about it. My mom was probably like you/your mom and just told them it wasn’t going to happen. We were still extremely respectful, we just didn’t say sir/ma’am. Now I say it when I’m in Mississippi talking to old black people but that’s about it.

  11. I was raised in the Midwest and didn’t do it. I didn’t know anyone that did, my mom, dad, grandparents, friends, etc. didn’t. But now that I think about it, my mother does have a story of ending up on the wrong side of my great-grandfather’s (Mississippian) cane for just saying yes, without a sir.

    Growing up, we didn’t visit anyone down South and so it wasn’t a problem for us. My mother WAS strict in that we didn’t call adults by their first names. We called adults who were close (Aunt or Uncle First Name or Ms. or Mr. First Name) and all other adults were Ms. or Mr. Last Name. I should say (and I’ll acknowledge that this is weird), this didn’t apply to white people. My parents never cared what we called them. If they said, call me Larry. Then Larry it was…

    I want my children to respectful of their elders but I wouldn’t make them sir or ma’am folks. As long as they know better than to catch a tone with adults and don’t run around talking about “what?” or “huh?”, I’d probably be good.

  12. Born and bred in California. Both of my grandmothers were raised in California so my southern roots are distant. I say ma’am and sir when folks are being bossy, or if the person is very old and I do not know their name. I feel like people are calling me old when they refer to me as ma’am.

    I like to call people by the name they prefer. If someone told my kid to call them ma’am then that is what the kids will call them. If they tell my kid to call them by a first name, that is okay too.

    I am guessing that the ‘ in ma’am replaces the d in madam or mademosielle (sp). If I call a person Ms or Mrs. that is the same as saying ma’am

    • As I think about it I wonder if “sir” comes from “sire”. Are folks waking around calling folks daddy? I need some history on this stuff. I am okay with ma’am but I can’t let folks require my kids to call them daddy on the sly or some nonsense.

      • Interesting question!

        I found this on answers.com, so take it with a grain of salt: thru its earlier form sire it came from the french word sieur which was a slurring of seigneur which came from the latin word senior meaning elder.

        From me: There are also points in the Bible at which men are called “Sir”, but those men weren’t fathers, they were people in a position commanding respect.

  13. Born and raised in VA and no ma’am or sir for me. The Mister uses those terms (to his mother especially) and I thought it was weird. He grew up military though so maybe that’s why.

      • Real late with this but oddly enough I just mentioned it to The Mister yesterday. He said he will teach Lewis the sir/ma’am thing. I think I just won’t press it if The Mister isn’t around LOL. I honestly don’t think about it because it sounds so unnatural to me.

  14. I ma’am and sir older folks. I am a FIRM believer on putting handles on names however. Children do not call adults by their first names around me.

    Born in Kansas, but RAISED in Texas.

    OAN: I was in an interview on Friday and the candidate called me Mrs. Mack. I had to look around to see who he was talking to. Obviously, I haven’t grown into my new last name yet. I thought he was calling my MIL! LOL!!!

  15. Ma’am and sir, as well as appropriate tone and inflection, are all required in my family. I don’t have children, but when I speak to kids I use the terms, but mostly to remind them to use it and to show that I respect them as well. I also use it with my peers. Born and raised in Texas.

    Lord willing, when I have children, they will use them as well.

  16. My Great Grandmother was the only person I ever used Ma’am to. She required it, but my grandparents never did.
    My son calls adults Mr. or Miss (First name) outside of school. His school friends parents are called Mr or Mrs Lastname. It would seem really strange for him to call my friends Mr or Ms. Lastname. I’m not even sure he knows their last names. LOL
    I’m a Northerner, born and raised. So are my parents. My grandparents were born in the South but lived most of their lives in the North

    • My cleaning crew are Hispanic. They call me Mrs. That’s all just “Mrs”. I guess that’s their equivalent of Senora, so they are using Ma’am or Madam also.

      • I’m reading….slow…but I’m reading. My Grand Parents used to share stories of their migration. I’m enjoying the book and thinking about them.

  17. Ma’am and sir were required in my house. I grew up in Illinois for reference. AND I better have the proper tone when I answer. Now that I’m “grown” I can get away w/ calling her Lucy (not her real name ) or saying yes mommy. And adults were Ms/ Mr first name. Very rarely was I allowed to call an adult by just their first name. Its still a habit to this day to call people older than me Mr/Mrs/Ms.

    • I can’t call adults by their first name either. And I am an adult. My friend’s mom wants me to call her by her first name…so I don’t call her anything. LOL! I’ll just walk in and start talking to her. I have managed not to call the woman’s name for well over 20 years now!

      • My mom’s best friend insisted we call her Karen from like 13. I was so scared it was a trap!! I still stutter even tho she and my mom said it was okay. I’m so not grown.

      • Once I got married folks at church starting telling me to call them by their first name and I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t call a 90 year old man John.

  18. I’m from northern California with family from Mississippi. I believe my mother was trying to disassociate herself from everything south, so we never had to say ma’am or sir to anyone. I was given the yes what? on a few visits down south when I was younger but my mother would say something. If I knew the persons last name they where Mr. Mrs. or Ms. so and so

    • Yeah, I think my mother was doing the same. Now that I think about it, my grandmother – who lived most of her life in Arkansas – never made us ma’am her. She probably figured we were too far gone 🙂

  19. Pingback: I’m Piggybacking « Mama Sez

  20. My comment turned into a blog entry of my own. Check out I’m Piggybacking. My short response is that it is respectful and regional.

  21. I MAKE my kids say Ma’am and Sir to ALL ADULTS..It may just be a southern thing. I also jump on them QUICKLY if they address an adult by their first name without saying Mr., Ms, Uncle, auntie or some other type of title before it….It’s just a matter of respect to me.

    As an adult, I still address people as ma’am or sir. Nobody in the south every minds….It seems people who live elsewhere tend to get offended by it….But hey to each his own…But I better not ever catch my kids not addressing an adult in the manner I taught them…

  22. I’m from Chicago and while most black people here have roots deep in the south, we’re not southern in the sense that we say ma’am and sir all the time.

    I think it’s cute like puppies and rainbows and cupcakes. I had a friend who’s mom was from Alabama and she thought I was rude because I didn’t say it and I had the same reaction. Like what are you talking about.

    I sort of make fun of southerners who do it. Sort of. #DontJudgeMe

  23. I’m from Boston, Mass and we absolutely did not grow up saying ma’am and sir. First time anyone called me Ma’am was at an airline counter in Houston when I was in my twenties. It made me cringe. It does smack of slavery to me. Pserendipity says it doesn’t seem related to slavery to her, but then further explains it is meant to acknowledge that you are not on the same level. & it is a southern custom. So to me, you add those two things together : acknowledging you are not on the same level and deeply entrenched in southern custom and what it adds up to is a throwback to slavery. Mr. Mrs. Miss and Ms. for me please. And forcing your child to say it every time they answer a question with yes or no …. seems dysfunctional to me.

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