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Old 02-29-2008, 11:00 AM
27 posts, read 321,892 times
Reputation: 35


Could someone help me understand the usage of "Yes, Ma'am / Sir" and "No, Ma'am /Sir"? Having moved here from PA, I immediately noticed that people in NC said "Yes, Ma'am" to me. And it wasn't just young children.....adults have said it to me, too.


- Is it an age thing? (i.e., Younger people say it to people who are clearer older than them?) If so, then why have "middle-aged" men & women said it to me? I'm only in my late 30's!!!

- Does anyone think it sounds subservient.....and/or has racial undertones (from the days of slavery)?

- Or, is it just a very polite way of addressing people?

I've since picked up the habit in the short time that I've lived here. But I want to make sure that I don't offend anyone by saying "Yes, Ma'am / Sir" to them. Would someone from the South think it sounds funny coming from a Northerner? That is, I don't exactly have the right accent and all....!!!

Old 02-29-2008, 11:05 AM
Location: Asheville, NC
648 posts, read 2,688,150 times
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-Yes, I rarely/never use it when speaking with someone clearly same age or younger than I am.
- No and NO! Back in the day children were expected to use ma'am/sir when addressing older family members. How is this racial?
- Yes
Old 02-29-2008, 11:06 AM
3,021 posts, read 9,918,691 times
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Usually it's just a polite way of addressing another person.
Old 02-29-2008, 11:10 AM
Location: Wake Forest
934 posts, read 931,803 times
Reputation: 326
It's respect. no undertones to it- its plain and simple respect for the person you are addressing- regardless of age. I don't address those who are *obviously* youngerthan me with it, although as I get older...well...there's more people younger than me! lol so, I'm sure I have, and always do at drive through when they ask ' is that all' - yes m'am...(or sir) is my reply...

Ive noticed its usually those from up north who think of it as a racial thing- when those of us down here (of any color) don't think of it that way at all....
Old 02-29-2008, 11:12 AM
65 posts, read 293,338 times
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It's really just a polite way of addressing people. It originally was used only for older people, but has evolved into a way of addressing all ages in a polite way.

Personally, as a born & bred Southerner, I would think it would sound weird & possibly contrived coming from someone with an obvious Northern accent. None of my Northern friends say it, although they have picked up some other Southern phrases!

On a sidenote, I actually address my dog this way when she's doing something bad. She gets a big "No, ma'am!"

So you can use it for all ages, even those with four legs!!
Old 02-29-2008, 11:45 AM
116 posts, read 428,190 times
Reputation: 48
Yes Maam...Yes Sir....isnt unique to the South. I grew up in New Mexico and have always addressed people in this manner, as do my children. Its simply polite and respectful.
Old 02-29-2008, 11:58 AM
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Originally Posted by tarheel7777 View Post
On a sidenote, I actually address my dog this way when she's doing something bad. She gets a big "No, ma'am!"
Does the dog get a "Yes, Ma'am" when she's done a good girl?

I was taught to address my elders as ma'am and sir when I grew up in NC. I moved to the West Coast and remember dropping using it because I got funny looks. But then a yes sir slipped out in my first job interview after college. I thought I had blown it. But it turned out the guy spent his summers in Alabama with his Grandmother so I got the job. My last corporate job we had clients all over the world. All the clients in the South loved me because of the ma'am and sir manners.

I do use ma'am and sir with those younger than me especially with children. I figure it's good modeling for them, especially my kids. Plus I don't ever want to have to guess who is younger than me and who isn't so I just use it with anyone regardless of age.
Old 02-29-2008, 12:03 PM
Location: Durham, NC
2,530 posts, read 7,922,722 times
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Originally Posted by PDXmom View Post
I do use ma'am and sir with those younger than me especially with children. I figure it's good modeling for them, especially my kids.
Me too. I especially use yes sir or no sir w/ my 3 year old son to emphasize my point, while also showing him that respecting others goes both ways, not just to your elders.
Old 02-29-2008, 12:31 PM
134 posts, read 546,245 times
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I was raised saying it and it's merely a sign of respect (especially to elders if you are a child). I was raised in Bama and currently residing in CA. We're moving to NC and one thing I'm looking forward to is raising my son around people that have the same manners in which I want to instill in him. That's one of them!! Children out here for the most part seem to be rude and absolutely spoiled rotten!! He's too young now but I figure if he hears it outside the home, it will help instill that which we are teaching at home. As far as I'm concerned (nothing to do with religion or nothing), there's not enough manners among people like it is these days. It seems people are quick to throw stones at others for how they live and don't concentrate enough on things going on in their own home (and with their own children). I believe that it starts in the home folks. Just my thoughts. So yes, it's a sign of respect and I have every intention of raising my son to use it as well. There are far worse things to get offended over.
Old 02-29-2008, 12:37 PM
4,834 posts, read 5,440,088 times
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When we moved here from the northeast 13 years ago this was one of the first things my Wife noticed. I had lived in Alabama and North Carolina previously and knew about this southern trait.
I think it is refreshing, shows good manners in both children and adults and we use it all the time.
I see no racial undertones as whites and blacks both utilize these terms and it makes us feel a lot homier...and after all we are country folks.
If our neighbors' children ever address an adult without first calling them ma'am or sir or Mister Bob" or Ms/Miss/Mrs. Linda" (examples) their parents will chastise them.
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