DEAR ABBY: My friend and I read your column often and usually agree with your advice, but we could not disagree more with your response to "Definitely Not Your Ma'am in South Carolina" (July 14). She's the woman who feels that being addressed as "ma'am" is derogatory because she thinks it's a derivative of "mammy," and another way of keeping women in their place.
You told her she was mistaken -- that "ma'am" is a contraction of the word "madam," and an often regional form of respectful address to an adult (usually married) woman. Well, Abby, we do not consider "ma'am" a term of respect!
Of course, in theory, the term is respectful. But notice how men have been given one "age-free" form of address ("sir") that follows them from age 9 to 90, while women are addressed according to their age. Most of the women we know, regardless of geographic location, loathe that moment they are forced into "ma'am land." -- DON'T MA'AM US EITHER
DEAR DON'T MA'AM US EITHER: Some of my readers agreed with you. However, responses were based on geographic location and service in the military. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: You should have pointed out that "ma'am" is the equivalent of "sir," and in the military it is not just a courtesy, it is mandatory when a member is addressing a female of higher rank. I'm proud to be a ma'am! -- SHARON BIVINS, M.D., SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
DEAR ABBY: It's ironic that "Definitely Not Your Ma'am" considers it rude to be called ma'am, since the term derives from "madam," which in turn derives from the French "ma dame" -- which translates in English to "my lady." Therefore, and I'd say this is true north of the Mason-Dixon line as well as south of it -- to be called "ma'am" is as close as anyone in the U.S. can get to being referred to as royalty. -- R. WEINAPPLE, MENLO PARK, CALIF.
DEAR ABBY: Thank God for people like Dear Abby, who is educated enough to recognize idiots when they're present.
My mother would turn over in her grave if I addressed a lady by her first name. I answered "ma'am" to the first woman in my life -- my mother. I don't think that respect can be any more sincere than love for one's mother. If "Definitely" doesn't like the tradition in the South, then she should move. It seems that the younger generation is no longer respectful to anyone -- including themselves. -- TRUE SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN
DEAR ABBY: If "Definitely" is miffed about being addressed as "ma'am," then maybe we should start referring to each other as "hey you."
A word of advice to "Definitely," who thought she knew what "ma'am" meant. A dictionary is a fine tool to consult before putting your opinions in writing for the world to see. On the other hand, failing to do so certainly makes for amusing reading. -- ANNIE PHILLIPS, HUNTSVILLE, ALA.