DEAR MISS MANNERS: In the past few years I have noticed an infuriating trend: service people, such as cashiers, waitresses, etc., but sometimes also complete strangers, address me as "Mama."
Whatever happened to "Ma'am?"
I find this tacky and disrespectful, and it makes me absolutely livid. I snap back with a haughty "I'm not your mama!" which always causes total shock and surprise.
"Mama," in this context, is clearly a way of addressing an older women -- it calls attention to the woman's age. Yesterday, a younger friend of mine was devastated because some clerk called her "Mama" for the first time.
Do you have a better retort than a very stern "I am not your mama"? And will you please tell your readers to stop doing this?
GENTLE READER: What happened to "Ma'am" is that the age factor was injected into it from the recipient's side. Those who apparently consider it reprehensible to grow older, even as they are doing so, took it as an insult, rather than the indication of respect it actually is. (Royal females are correctly addressed as "Ma'am," whatever their age.)
In contrast, flinging around the hallowed terms denoting motherhood is disrespectful, Miss Manners agrees. Her own dear mother used a softer version of your retort to strangers, which she offers to you: "Surely if I were your mother, I would have remembered you."