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Nov 18, 2013 06:05 PM

The Mis-use of "Miss"

As a recently widowed person, I find myself eating out a lot. I am frequently addressed as "Miss," even though I'm past 60. I don't really see the need for an honorific after a query such as, "Would you like bread? Am I being overly sensitive?

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      1. re: weezieduzzit

        It isn't polite. She isn't a pre-pubescent girl.

        1. re: lagatta

          What makes you think it's not polite? In parts of the States -- i.e., the Northeast -- this is the default form of polite address for a woman whose last name you do not know regardless of her age. See comments of Ratgirlagogo, downthread. I note that you are from Canada, where Missus is evidently the standard form. While Ma'am is used as the default in many parts of the US, that usage is not universal. My nonagenarian mother, for example, born and raised in NY, would much prefer Miss over Ma'am.

          1. re: masha

            Where I grew up in California I would consider it inappropriate to call an adult woman "Miss." It's a status thing: traditionally a married woman has higher status, so calling an adult woman "Miss" implies she is lower status. It's what snotty people, especially women, call clerks and waitresses: "Oh miss!" It's like (although obviously not as seriously offensive as) calling a black man "boy." That said, life is to short to take offense when clearly none is intended.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Really? Where in California did you grow up? We were taught to address any adult unmarried female (such as a teacher......a Sunday school teacher.....a store clerk etc.) as Miss.... such as Miss Smith.....Miss Anderson and such. And my parents had a fit if one of us dared to mention an adult by first name...even when a parent of a friend insisted we call them by their first name it was taboo! My parents were old school and considered any veering from old school manners by any of their four kids a disgrace to them:) I am still so respectful when I interact in the real world not online. I grew up in west side Petaluma in the 60's and 70's.

              1. re: MamasCooking

                <I grew up in west side Petaluma in the 60's and 70's.>

                I grew up the same but in a different city up north.
                "Miss", for a single woman, was a sign of respect….

                Beyond that, as a child, it would never enter our minds to address an adult by their first name. Things, obviously, became more casual in the '60's and traditional social customs fell by the way-side. I still find it lovely when one of my dear friend's sons calls me Mrs. and single women Miss.
                I would never attempt to correct him in order that he would be allowed to call be by my first name. It was the way he was raised and taught. He's one of the most respectful men I've ever met, with impeccable manners when it comes to women.
                It's so sad, to me, that a woman would find him offensive.

                1. re: latindancer

                  I'm sure that was respectful by the standards of those days, but those were days when women were not considered equal, and still viewed basically as baby-making machines. I think I'm probably about the same age you are (boomer) but I always felt a deep feeling of revolt about that state of affairs - and about other forms of injustice, such as racism, when I saw the news about the Black girls murdered in Birmingham Al, and read Anne Frank's diary.

                  I do hope that in your country too, a woman's marital status will become of no business to anyone but her husband, their families and public records (to prevent bigamy and other forms of fraud).

                  There are lovely, courteous aspects to traditional social customs, but racism and sexism were traditional too, and nothing lovely about those.

                  1. re: lagatta

                    <those were days when women were not considered equal and still viewed basically as baby-making machines>

                    Did you experience, those stereotypes?

                    I can assure you, lagatta, those are stereotypes I never experienced, ever.
                    The women I knew, including the women in my family, were anything BUT. I was raised to be strong, independent and free thinking. I knew what my place in the world, as a female, was at a very young age. The men around me respected me.
                    Interestingly, I never felt the same 'deep feeling of revolt' as you do/did.
                    Anne Frank was a victim of her times, the Holocaust, and I'm very well aware of it, personally, unfortunately. As we all know, if anyone cared to know her, she was very strong, brave and independent in her thinking. She was not considered weak or subservient or dominated by any man. She was the one, in that hour of horrendous darkness, who helped men to understand what the word 'courage' meant.
                    Racism, as my very educated black female friends/colleagues will confirm, is still very much alive and glowing…we'd all just prefer to pretend and to think it's not. Fortunately, we now have laws in place that help to prevent injustice (although they don't) what happened in Birmingham.
                    Traditional social customs are necessary for a society to run itself properly and with meaning. We're not the only country with them. It's a shame that a man cannot call a single woman 'Miss' without some sort of backlash either quietly or in their face.

                    1. re: latindancer

                      I think a man should call a woman who 'appears' reasonably young Miss, vs. Ma'am, esp. if he does not know her or her marital status. I got offended alot in my 30's and 40's when called ma'am as I thought it meant people thought I was old - married or not. Miss can be a kinder form of address to some of us.

                2. re: MamasCooking

                  Old school was not that far back.... When we moved in '94, my son was six. Our new neighbor told him to call her Aunt Judy. After we walked back across the street, my son said, "Can I just call her Mrs. (so and so)? She's not my aunt."
                  I was very proud of him.

                  1. re: MamasCooking

                    I'd argue that it's vastly more "snotty" to imply that a marriage license elevates a woman's "status".

                    1. re: LeoLioness

                      I've never, ever heard that a 'marriage license elevates a woman's status'.

                      I'm thinking there's got to be some projecting going on with that statement.

                      1. re: latindancer

                        I never heard that either until I read the post to which I responded.

                        1. re: latindancer

                          Are we entirely in agreement as to who is projecting what?

                          Just sayin'.

                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                      oh wow, i respectfully completely disagree with this! maybe married women enjoyed "higher status" in the 30s or 40s or even 50s, but i don't ever think of "Miss" as being a denigration. and i really, REALLY see it as an overreaction to compare it to someone calling a black man "boy"! even though you're saying not to take offense.

                      1. re: mariacarmen

                        It's not the same thing as that racist insult. It IS sexist though to distinguish women on the basis of their marital status when there is no such distinction for adult men.

                        At least we've eliminated that stuff here...

                        1. re: lagatta

                          Lagatta, I agree that it is sexist to use titles for women based on marital status but not all women feel that way. The original question was what honorific should be used to address a stranger whose last name is unknown (i.e., where Ms. Smith is not an option). Perhaps there is a universal usage in Canada (evidently there is), but there is not here. Miss and Ma'am are the 2 most commonly used terms and it's pretty evident from the comments on this thread that some women strongly prefer one over the other.

                          And, indeed, even where the last name is known, this issue can be fraught. I'm a "Ms." who has kept her last name for 30+ years of marriage, but I've given up on correcting people who want to use "Mrs" in preface to my last name (that's my mother's name, not mine), just as I don't correct people who want to call me "Ma'am." And, I come to realize a long time ago that certain of my SIL's are offended if I were to use "Ms." on an envelope addressed to them, so I use Mrs. in reference to them.

                          1. re: masha

                            I don't think it is universal in Canada; I was referring only to Québec.

                            As for the SILs, I'd simply use first and last name then.

                            1. re: lagatta

                              Well, if I addressed an envelope to my SIL who preferred Mrs over Ms, omitting both honorifics, it still would be obvious that I am not using her preferred mode of address. I could do it, but it would probably annoy her. Note, that she knows my preference and uses "Ms" on envelopes to me and I'm happy to reciprocate.

                              1. re: masha

                                I agree.

                                Why would anyone purposely offend someone who prefers to be called Mrs. when it's obvious the person having the problem is projecting their own issue(s)?

                              2. re: lagatta

                                <I'd simply use first and last name then.>

                                They prefer to be addressed as 'Mrs.'

                                I'd be like me saying 'NO' to my married, female friends who want to be addressed as Ms.
                                Of course I'd address the envelope as Ms…
                                It's what they prefer.

                          2. re: mariacarmen

                            ok, Ruth, you edited your post so now mine looks like i''m overreacting to your post! no fair! :)

                          3. re: Ruth Lafler

                            I've lived in San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles and now in the greater Los Angeles area and know no one that finds it derogatory to be called "Miss." I think its one of those things that falls into the category of not a big deal unless you're looking for something to make a big deal about. Of course I've also never hung out with people that would and was not raised by people who would "rank" people by their marital status.

                            1. re: weezieduzzit

                              <falls into the category of not a big deal unless you're looking for something to make a big deal about>

                              Amen to that :).

                            2. re: Ruth Lafler

                              "Traditionally a married woman has higher status..."

                              Good grief, I thought that thinking only existed in novels written by Edith Wharton and others.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                while: "traditionally a married woman has higher status"
                                In reality she stood to lose everything. Under English Common law and much American Law (especially here in New England where I went to law school and practice). a woman who married lost all her rights and property. A single woman could own property, but as soon as she married it became the property of her husband (as was she).
                                Back in the late 70s I was engaged to be married in South Africa (operating under the British Legal system) we had to enter into an ante-nuuptial agreement (not a prenup as in the states) in order that my future wife did not becaome an infant under the law upon marriage and would be allowed to have her own bank account,

                                To quote the Virginia Slims cigarette commercials of our youth, "youv'e come a long way, baby...."

                                1. re: bagelman01

                                  while: "traditionally a married woman has higher status"
                                  In reality she stood to lose everything. Under English Common law and much American Law (especially here in New England where I went to law school and practice). a woman who married lost all her rights and property. A single woman could own property, but as soon as she married it became the property of her husband (as was she)."

                                  I live in northern Maine and you are going to have to quote chapter and verse to convince me that such a law is still in effect in the United States in general and New England specifically.

                            3. re: lagatta

                              Yes, but in many parts of the country it is at least an attempt to be polite. Its still much better than "hey you" or something to that affect. Our society is too easy offended.

                            1. Yes, you are being too picky. It's common for younger people to refer to women as "Miss", probably because many of them have been recipients of the "stink-eye" when they addressed a woman nearing 40 as "Ma'am". The first time a woman is called "ma'am" is not a happy day. True, the honorific is not obligatory in many an exchange, but the server or clerk doesn't have the luxury of time to ponder what to say.

                              35 Replies
                              1. re: greygarious

                                "The first time a woman is called "ma'am" is not a happy day."

                                Really? The first time I was called ma'am, I was pleased to be shown respect and acknowledged to be an adult. May have been different for you, but I'm happy to be growing older. Being young was hard!

                                1. re: Hobbert

                                  Ma'am is so common in the South where I've lived before, that I never bat an eye at it. You will get called Ma'am by everyone regardless if they are your elder or your superior. For Southerners, it's just a polite way of addressing a female, period.

                                  1. re: SaraAshley

                                    How do you feel about "Yessum" ? Is it used more or less the same as ma'am ?

                                    I'd LOVE to live in the South. I think there's a part of me deep down somewhere that connects with all things good in the South. Startin' with good manners, lookin' out for your neighbors, and chicken fried steak with red eye gravy :-D

                                    1. re: LotusRapper

                                      I don't recall ever really hearing yessum used.

                                      I loved living in the South. I've only ever lived 2 places, so I can't compare between it and a lot of other regions of the country, but there were definitely some positive differences between Charlotte, NC (where i lived) and Northern VA (where I'm from and where I live now). Technically I'm below the Mason-Dixon line in VA, so South, but there really is nothing Southern about Northern VA.

                                      The good manners is not a myth, and strangers say hi to you when passing you on the street. I remember doing drive by house hunts with my now ex-bf and how if we ever passed anyone while they were taking out the trash or picking up mail, they would wave. People only do that if they know you where I live now.

                                      1. re: SaraAshley

                                        re: the South - I miss being called 'baby' as in "uh huh and you want anything else with that baby?" it ALWAYS won me over and generated a grin.

                                        1. re: hill food

                                          Lol, I use lots of terms of endearment to refer to a lot of people in my life. From friends to bfs to bartenders. I will routinely refer to them all at some point as babe, baby, or hon. I realize from these boards that people on here would hate me. I can assure you though that most people I refer to with these names do not mind it because they do the same thing to me. It's just how we talk. And back to ma'am, I've been known to refer to people wayyyyyyyy younger than me as ma'am, as well. Like my nieces. If they're doing something wrong I will give them a look in a stern but calm voice and say "no ma'am." Ma'am to me is just a respectful term, regardless of age.

                                          1. re: hill food

                                            Or at the checkout: "Uh huuuuuuh, you got it, HUN-AY !" :-)

                                            As a Canadian, I find those mannerisms very endearing. So maybe it's not about Trader Joe's, cheap gas and dairy after all ...... ;-)

                                            1. re: LotusRapper

                                              As a fellow Canadian who travel to US for business, I find endearing provided it's said with a genuine smile (which it often does). Though it's more informal than 'Ms' or 'ma'am', 'hon' just makes the service experience a bit more friendly.

                                              It's when I'm called 'ma'am' with the enthusiasm of a dead fish that makes me feel I'm my mother's age.

                                              1. re: Nevy

                                                I hear ya.

                                                Guess my beef is, we don't get much of "sir", "miss/mizz", "ma'am" etc. at all from our local service industries, with or without genuineness. I'm happy when I even get solid eye contact and a smile from frontline customer service folks, whether it'd be restaurants or retail. Then again, I'm in Vancouver, and from my experience, people here are not big on connecting meaningfully, whether in retail transactions or as neighbors and folks in the community:


                                            2. re: hill food

                                              I'm from Philly and I miss being called "hon".

                                              1. re: monavano

                                                I thought "Hon" was a "Balmer MD" thing?

                                                1. re: Motosport

                                                  I didn't realize until recently that it's HUGE in Balmer!

                                                  1. re: monavano

                                                    I always thought people were calling Balmer "Hun Country" (y'know a vestige of the revolution and the Hessian/Prussian mercenaries).

                                                    until I realized.

                                                  2. re: Motosport

                                                    i live in arlington, va (originally from s.w.florida) but "hon" is nothing i'd heard myself (south of baltimore) until last year at the cowboy cafe here in arlington. i guess our waitress was from baltimore.

                                                    i don't like "hon" but i guess that's because i didn't grow up with it. it reminds me of flo in mel's diner. LOL

                                                      1. re: LotusRapper

                                                        a doll indeed. always made me smile. (she could also pull a tear or two from these eyes when she wanted. polly holliday is a very good actress).

                                                        1. re: alkapal

                                                          ha, she's the aunt of my old (usual) babysitter in STL! I never met her but could see (later after she was on TV) the family resemblance to the sitter's dad.

                                            3. re: LotusRapper

                                              "Yessum" is a relic from another, less-glorious era.

                                              1. re: LotusRapper

                                                An old adage:

                                                "In the East, people will invite you to dinner but are too busy to do it.

                                                In the South, they'll invite you to dinner but don't mean it.

                                                In the Midwest, they'll just come on over with a casserole."

                                                To finish the there a good one for the West?

                                                1. re: Steve

                                                  In the West they just won't invite you for dinner because they don't cook


                                                  In the West they say they'll invite you for dinner but never do it.


                                                  In the West, they'll never invite you for dinner.

                                                  1. re: escondido123

                                                    In the West, they'll invite you to dinner then cancel at the last minute

                                                    1. re: escondido123

                                                      hmph! everyone i know cooks out here in the West! dinner invites galore.

                                                    2. re: Steve

                                                      In the West, everyone is welcome at the barbeque, just bring your own beer.

                                                    3. re: LotusRapper

                                                      yessum? that sounds like some characterization of a servant's speech. i never heard "yessum" growing up in the south. i'm not saying it never exists these days, but not in my exoerience.

                                                      1. re: alkapal

                                                        There was some of that, but it wasn't African-American per se, just a Southern custom, albeit very old. A contraction of "yes ma'am":


                                                          1. re: alkapal

                                                            I was raised both southern and military, I call 18 year old little girls Ma'am. In my raising, Miss is only used in front of either a first name of a close family friend who is old enough to be considered the speaker's elder ( a 20 year old being spoken to by a 9 year old, a 60 year old being spoken to by a 40 year old, etc) or followed by the last name of an unmarried woman. Yes'm is to be used as a sign of respect but only in an extremely informal situation.

                                                          2. re: LotusRapper

                                                            thanks Lotus. I'd love to have you. But you could practice all 3 right where you are ?? do your best and try not let our extreme uglies (yeah, you know what they are) slip in. spread all those good things around to everybody - lord knows we all need them.

                                                          3. re: SaraAshley

                                                            LOL my cats and dog are all referred to as Mr or Miss "their name".

                                                          4. re: Hobbert

                                                            This made me laugh because the first time I was called ma'am I was about 25, and the gentleman was about 55. And I was waaaay to young to want to be called ma'am. However, it was the south, and they guys on the job were bothered by it. We finally settled on "Miss Andrea".

                                                            1. re: Hobbert

                                                              Hallmark used to have a free animated e-card that was in the 40th birthday section. In it, a carefree woman places her order at a fast food drive-thru. She tootles along in her car to the pick-up window, where, as she is about to drive off, the pimply-faced teen boy waiting on her says, "have a nice day, ma'am". She scowls and steams as she stamps on the gas pedal, tires squealing, muttering "Ma'am!!!". The final caption is "Get used to it". The friend I sent it to got a big hoot out of it.

                                                              1. re: Hobbert

                                                                You summed it up perfectly for me Hobbert....being young was hard....being 60......retired...great pensions...good health and time to live well and enjoy it (yes I too am widowed) is a blast!!!!!!!!

                                                              2. re: greygarious

                                                                I have to say, though, I much prefer 'ma'am' or ladies to 'guys' or 'you guys' when in a group of women.

                                                              3. I'd say you're being overly sensitive. I get what you're saying, but I'm sure this is just the way that particular server addresses female diners and gives no thought if the age of the female diner he is addressing. What would you prefer? Ma'am? Not trying to pick, just curious.

                                                                On a bit off topic side note, a recent guy that I was dating (no longer) saw that one of my credit cards had Miss in front of my name and made fun of me for it. He called it a "douchey" move on my part. Go figure.

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: SaraAshley

                                                                  Sara - huh - so you no longer date a guy who referred to a decision of yours as 'douchey'? wow I can hear what he'd ascribe to the cause of your mood after you had a bad day. (smirk) what a loser (well him and me)

                                                                  yeah I guess I only tolerate comments like that from near and longtime friends.

                                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                                    Haha, well personally I don't mind a little good natured picking from someone I'm dating, but yes, there is a long list of reasons that it didn't work out.

                                                                    1. re: SaraAshley

                                                                      second-guessing myself is my new hobby. re-reading this you were right to DTMFA. I was alluding in the post that you might very well have been setting yourself up for snarky comments every 28-ish days that I really don't have to illustrate, right?.

                                                                  2. re: SaraAshley

                                                                    Any guy using the word douche is clearly not a gentleman anyway. I'd have shown him the curb too.