Yes Ma’am and No Sir
You can tell immediately when a child or young adult was raised in a southern home. To answer an adult with either “yes ma’am” or “no sir” demonstrates respect for authority and elders. Southern civility may be living on life support, but there are still a few who hope that by instilling these manners into their children, that grace and dignity will remain part of our culture.
Who Should Say ‘Yes Ma’am and No Sir’?
In this writer’s opinion, everyone old enough to talk in sentences should use the terms when addressing the elderly, those in authority over you and anyone who may have offered you a service. I say sir or ma’am to my doctors, pizza deliverers, and my UPS/FedEx steward.
As I discovered while researching this topic, many across the globe appreciate this, and yet, the courtesy is in decline. Here are a few quotes from across social media:
The terms aren’t as important as the attitudes of courtesy, politeness and respect for others. ~ Jerry Sorrell from Quora.
From my perspective these terms are a way of showing respect. It isn’t about age or status for me though. Most of the time I use these terms with everyone including children. To me that may be even more important. I’ve seen kids light up when I say yes ma’am or yes sir to them. I like sending the message that you don’t have to be older to be respected, or to choose to be respectable for that matter.
I also think saying no ma’am or no sir tends to soften the blow a little bit for kids once they’re old enough to appreciate it. It says, “I’m not arbitrarily saying no just because I ‘out rank’ you and I can.” It says, “I respect you and your feelings, but you still can’t do/have whatever it is you’re asking about.”
I suppose my ideas about this are informed by my very strong feelings about how we treat each other as a society and all the southerners who raised me. ~ Sheri Jackson/Quora
Everyday of my life I say yes ma’am or no sir. I live in Charleston, SC. You just hold doors open for ladies, they say thanks, and you say yes ma’am. It just a fact of life here really. ~ James Emry/Quora
Across the pond here in the UK, the terms are used quite often. Children often say this to teachers and sometimes other adults, employees will often say it to their boss, and some people will say it to older people. Also in the military it is mandatory to address those of a higher rank as such. ~ Jake Williams (aka If I wasn’t a narcissist, I’d be perfect!)
When I was growing up, if I ever answered either parent with just a yes or no, I was immediately asked, “Yes, what?” Or, “No, what?” To have answered then without ma’am or sir would have been an act of blatant disobedience. My punishment would have been either a few lashes with a switch or I may have been sent to my room to “think about it.” Most of the time, my daddy only had to threaten to use the switch on us girls and we would quickly change our ways, but on the rare occasion that one of us rebelled, correction was quick. And I am not damaged because of it.
Who Doesn’t Need to Use Ma’am or Sir?
Personally, I am not bothered now by a person younger than me who answers me with a direct yes or no. But, when I hear, “yeah,” or “uh-huh,” I have to admit to thinking that this young person was not taught proper manners. And you can almost bet that if this lack of manners is present, disrespect and sass will soon follow.
“However, places like California or New England states might not like the word “Ma’am” thinking it rude and disrespectful because it makes the ladies feel older by calling them the shortened version of “madam”. And although it is a very giant norm in the south, maybe even proper, using “ma’am” can always be usurped by using “Miss” so ladies won’t be offended by being called an older title. “Sir” is fine in any situation, even in the north and even in other countries. “Ma’am” is just a little more defined to the American South.” ~ JL from Quora
For the person who may feel “older” when called ma’am or sir, all I can say is please get over yourself, ma’am! And JL, let me applaud you for bringing up the whole “Miss” thing. I think it is simply delightful to call a young lady “Miss”, but rarely hear that anymore either. Here is a quote from Julia, a friend of mine from high school:
I don’t let little ones call me by my first name. It’s ‘Miss Julia,” and it’s “please, thank you, and yes Ma’am” if they are talking to me — and I haven’t yet met a child who minds it! What’s distressing is adults who insist on being called by their first names so they won’t feel “old.” By all means, let’s do away with good manners and civility to support their vanity. Yikes!
I couldn’t have said it better myself! I also remember having a conversation with a friend years ago who said that to demand respect is really to have no respect at all. I disagree. Just because a child is required to speak respectfully to an adult doesn’t mean they actually respect them. But, as Jerry said above, it is the attitude of respect that is important. Just because you may not agree with someone doesn’t give you the right to treat them with disrespect. Using these terms will “soften the blow” when disagreeing with someone.
From a southern momma:
I remember when my youngest and I headed to the beach…we stopped to get gas and I was going into the store to pay and two guys, early 20s, practically ran over me going in the door when I opened it. I grabbed one by the arm and said excuse me…the two of you go back outside and come in this door like your momma taught you. By this time I had an audience and my son looked like he was driving the get away car! The two boys looked stunned…so I said..Well, since you either are not from the south or your momma didn’t teach you any manners…this is how it’s done. We all go outside…you see me walk up…you run to open the door for ME..I walk in and say thank you! They did exactly that…apologized and we got a standing ovation from those in the store. Best feeling ever…glad I got out alive!!
To quote one other friend during my Facebook survey, “Dr. Phil says that ‘you teach people how to treat you’, so if we insist on being treated with respect and dignity, we in turn raise the level of respect in society and in ourselves.” And, I might add, in other countries, like France for example, they still add the address at the end of the answer. “Yes, mademoiselle, and no monsieur” are used as standard responses when not using a persons’ name. I think that about sums it up. So, when do you use the terms yes ma’am and no sir? And if not, why not, ma’am?