Monday, June 16, 2008

"Lady" for "Madam"


A Young Woman of Observation Criticises the Form of Address.

"Three times today," said a young woman of observation, "I was addressed as 'lady,' I mean in the vocative. In two cases, I was bidden to come 'this way, lady,' by shop attendants, and in the third case my dentist's servant told me that it was my 'turn next, lady.' I have noticed for some time the growing tendency to use this form of address, and Jack tolls me that he has remarked the same thing in people addressing him. He told me only yesterday that he was running up the stairs at the elevated station down at the city hall when, thinking of something else, he took the wrong landing. A servant of the road barred his way and said, 'The other stairs to the ticket office, gentleman.' Jack said, moreover, that he didn't like the form of address, not that it was not perfectly respectful, he said, and he kept thinking about it all the way home. So, too, I don't mind confessing that I don't like to be told to come this way, 'lady,' or asked if I will buy anything, 'lady.'

"I know that it is a style of address that used to be considered the exclusive property of gypsies and sailormen, and I don't know if I should not be perfectly content to have it remain so. Possibly the spread of it is another evidence of the freedom of the age, and possibly, too, the shop attendant and the dentist's servant were of the opinion that to say 'lady' indicated a much less degree of inferiority than to say `ma'am' or 'madam.' If that is their opinion, I should like to have the opportunity of telling them that they are very much mistaken. For one woman to address another woman or for a man to address a woman as 'madam' betrays no sense of inferiority on the part of the speaker. It is simply the recognized form of address of one person — equal or not equal — to another person when the name of the person addressed need not or cannot be mentioned, and I for one am not an admirer of the innovation. I would rather he asked to come 'this way, please,' or even, just curtly, 'this way,' than he bowed to and smiled at when some clerk tells me that the ribbons are 'this way, lady.' Lady is a very cuckoo among words anyhow. It has foisted poor 'woman' out of her proper place and now is trying to oust plain 'ma'am.' " — New York Sun.

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