Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Ma'am/Sir and Mr./Mrs./Miss/Miz

In The Corner today Rod Dreher linked to a Dallas News article on the decline of ma'am and sir and there was some talk about that and Mr./Mrs./Miss. I've commented on honorifics before, but here's a few more comments.

Like Dreher, I grew up being taught to say ma-am and sir. I'm not extremely attached to the terms (a polite yes or no has never bothered me), but I do favor their general use by children and their being used by nearly everyone when talking to the very elderly (other elderly people excepted.) The terms may be in decline even here in the South, but they haven't died out all together. And I'll admit that I always think more favorably of people who use those terms; when I hear those terms coming easily to the lips of someone my age, I know that person was "raised right".

Also like Dreher--probably because he was brought up in Louisiana and I in Mississippi--I was brought up calling most adults by their first name plus Mr. or Miss. (Incidentally, we pronounced Miss in those circumstances more like Ms., possibly because of its being used for both married and unmarried women.) Some adults--for example, schoolteachers--we called by their last name plus honorific. We never called adults by their first name. Back then I would have been shocked to hear a fellow child call an adult by his first name, and I do not like to hear it even now.

The first name plus honorific custom is still alive, by the way. Possibly more so than the ma'am/sir thing. I hope it doesn't decline further, because I think preserving distinction between adults and children is a good idea. Even if adults are all pretending to be chums by insisting on first names, children aren't adults and having children use honorifics for adults helps foster respect of authority.

It may be silly, but it recently occurred to me I would really like for someone--anyone--to call me Mrs. F----. Just once. I've been married ten and a half years and I don't think anyone has ever called me Mrs. Married Name. I've received a few letters addressed to Mrs. Suzanne --- and the diocesan newspaper is addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Uncle Pookie, but no one has ever called me Mrs. Pookie. Being called Miss Suzanne by politely brought up children, while nice, isn't quite the same, as I've been called that since at least the age of seventeen. Being called by my first name only is definitely not the same. It's a small thing, but it would be nice to hear. I'm an old married woman myself, but I suspect there may be a few brides out there who, deprived of ever hearing it in our first-name-only society, might like to be called Mrs. New Last Name.

The funny thing about my wanting to be called Mrs. ---- is that I actually had to think for a while before I decided to take my husband's last name. I always knew I would never want to marry, then I did decide to marry but had to think about whether to take his name or not, now I just wish someone would actually call me Mrs. Life's a funny old thing.

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