Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The Decline of Courtesy Titles

As a general rule, we Americans don't like titles. The Constitution even clearly states (Article 1, Section 9) that "No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States." 

We have no Dukes or Earls*, Counts or Viscounts, Barons or Baronets, Lords or Ladies. Of course, we do have an aristocracy here in the US of A, we just pretend it isn't there, and we don't mark it with formal titles of nobility. The American aristocracy is based on wealth and the perception, if not the reality of success, rather than on family lineage **.

Most of us who aren't in the military, a fraternal organization, or some stratified business don't have titles. We're not "colonels," "generals," or "admirals;" "Illustrious Potentates***" or "Grand Poobahs;" or "Presidents" or "CEOs." We're just ... well ... average Joes or Janes.

Which brings me to this 2017 article from Intellectual Takeout: "Why We Should Bring Back 'Ma’am' and 'Sir'." The article laments the loss of the courtesy and gentility we used to convey by using courtesy titles like sir and ma'am. Here's the money quote:

"Unfortunately, the day is coming when no one will make the mistake of calling [someone] either 'sir' or 'ma’am' because the generation now coming of age believes a clipped 'No' or 'Yes' is all that is required of them, no matter the title, education or age of the person to whom they are speaking."

Some people object to the use of sir and ma'am (or miss) because they're viewed as archaic and sexist, and perhaps they are - sexist, I mean, rather than archaic. After all, in today's cultural environment, it's not considered polite or proper to draw a distinction in address between a married ("ma'am," in verbal address and "Mrs" in writing) and a single ("miss") woman. I must admit, though, that I use both terms when addressing women, but use them as a matter of courtesy based on age and maturity rather than on marital status. And not many people outside of the military (and my family) say "sir" or "ma'am" any more when addressing an adult whose name they do not know††.

I believe that something is lost when we don't address people courteously. The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield used to moan, "I don't get no respect," and it's true that many of us today don't show respect to one another. Indeed, the showing of respect based on age, education, or significant achievement ... or anything else ... is often viewed as being subservient to another person. We demand respect from others, but are unwilling to give it ourselves.

How should we address people we don't know? There's no single answer on which all agree, but this summary from an interesting article on sounds good to me:

"What is the proper manner to address men and women††† today though? Well, it isn’t impolite to ask how someone wants to be addressed. Respect can come in the way you address someone as well as in the thought that goes into that address."

Have a good day. Be courteous and respectful. More thoughts tomorrow.


* The Duke of Earl doesn't count.

** Although we have lots of "aristocratic" families in various realms: in politics, the Kennedys and Bushes; in entertainment, the Fondas and the Kardashians; in business and industry the Rockefellers, Carnegies, and ... yes ... Trumps.

*** I can see myself as an "Illustrious Potentate" ... see my post on that topic here.

† I don't think "Ms" translates well from the printed page to the realm of the spoken word ... "miz" grates on the ear in a way "ma'am" or "miss" doesn't. But that's just me.

†† "Master" was once used as the form of address for a young man, but nobody says that any more.

††† It gets even more complicated ... some people are pushing "Mx" as a gender-neutral abbreviation. And I have no idea how to pronounce it ... "mix" sounds stupid to my traditional ear.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

How did John Wayne manage to become a Duke? Most people use that only for large dogs.

In some sections of New Orleans courtesy titles suchj as Cap'n, Podner, and Dawlin' are used.

Cloudia said...

Every adult in the harbor where I lived for 20 years was "Skipper"

Mike said...

I still don't use Ms. It just doesn't sound right to me. Sort of like the term data. It's supposedly plural. But 'data are' gets stuck in my throat and won't come out.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Nowadays 'Dude' is considered a courtesy title.

allenwoodhaven said...

Intent is the important part of whatever one says. Just about anything, given the proper context, can be said with respect.