Jason Davis: Being polite is getting too complicated

Nov. 18, 2013 @ 12:51 AM

I was raised to always try and be respectful to others, and I think — for the most part — I’ve always been able to follow that rule.

That’s why I was shocked a few months ago to learn that a phrase I’d been using has apparently become taboo.

No, I’m not talking about the Washington Redskins or any derogatory racial term.

I’m talking about saying, “Yes ma’am.”

As a child, my father taught me to answer “Yes sir” and “Yes ma’am.”

Obviously it didn’t apply to my contemporaries — they were kids.

But since I was taught that years ago, I’ve gone through life doling out the “yes sirs” and “yes ma’ams” with reckless abandon to basically everyone.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned there’s some kind of unknown, mystical age barrier applied to the word ma’am.

Since I don’t have the magical, all-knowing ma’am age detector — Walmart is sold out — I decided to take the question to social media to see what some of my friends had to say on the topic.

I was shocked.

Several female friends responded that yes, ma’am does make them feel old. A few even went on to say it could be construed as — gasp! — offensive.

But several others, the majority, said they appreciated the respect it implied.

A few friends offered alternatives, mainly words like miss and madame, although you apparently also have to consider marital status when making these important decisions.

Oh brother. I’m not going to play Sherlock Holmes, investigating a woman’s marital status before deciding what to call her.

Most of the time, I’m using ma’am for people I don’t really know — women I’ve just met at a function, service industry workers or a random person on the street. How on earth am I to know if they’re hitched?

And technically, shouldn’t considering a woman’s marital status being used in choosing what to call her be more upsetting in the first place?

In all, my friends’ responses to my Facebook post on the topic only added to my confusion.

So much for trying to be respectful.

One friend suggested I simply call everyone “sir,” like Marci, the character from the Peanuts comic strip and Charlie Brown cartoons, did.

Since I sort of look like Charlie Brown that just might work.

On the other hand, I’d be more likely get slugged and called a blockhead.

I propose we come up with a new word, here and now, that is the proper way to address a female — regardless of martial status, age, skin color, hair color, sexual orientation, height, weight, number of teeth or money in the bank.

Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single word that would be unoffensive to everyone.

Life is tough sometimes.

I guess I could throw kindness and respect out the window and go with, “Hey you.”

Nah. I’ll stick with ma’am.

If it bothers you, call me a jerk.

I won’t be offended.