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What is the way to address a man or woman, who's name you don't know, without causing offense?


136 replies to this topic

#1 Ser Scot A Ellison

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 11:47 AM

I was reading JohnWitch's "Girl" faux pas in the "Dealbreaker" thread and it made me think of an incident I experienced at the Reno Worldcon.

I was helping put up individual room schedules and I was approached by an older woman. She asked me if I knew where a particular panel was taking place. I said, "I'm sorry Ma'am, I don't know." She got angry and told me it was rude to call her "Ma'am."

I've grown up in the Southeastern US and it's pretty customary to refer to a woman who's name you don't know as "Ma'am" and a man who's name you don't know as "Sir". I was pretty flustered by the whole exchange and attempted to apologize and used "Ma'am" again while apologizing which only made her more angry. I closed out the conversation by again apologizing (without using "Ma'am") and suggesting she go by program ops to see if they could direct her to the panel she wanted.

Is there a safe generic mode of address in English for a Man or Woman who's name you do not know that will not offend anyone?

#2 Tempra

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 11:50 AM

Ms. for a woman and Sir for a man.

ETA: Women who get upset at ma'am annoy me. What a silly and petty thing to be a jerk about.

Edited by Tempra, 12 January 2013 - 11:52 AM.


#3 Sci-2

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 11:50 AM

Motherfucker? Jabronie? Dude/dudette? Bro and she-bro?

#4 Ser Scot A Ellison

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 11:52 AM

Tempra,

Do you mean "Ms." pronouned Mizzzz? I always foul that up and say "Miss".

#5 Daario's*before*Snows

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 11:53 AM

There is no proper way, its all a gamble.
This girl wants to be called a woman. That woman over there is offended if you called her a woman. The next chick likes to be called a ho. This one over here is a neo feminist and is offended by all gender specific labels.
Etc etc

Edited by Eye*Non, 12 January 2013 - 11:54 AM.


#6 Auntie Aoife Eto'o Zed

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 11:55 AM

I, not being from the south, often just leave that part out. "I'm sorry, I don't know." Or, if possible, get their name and use that. Maybe mirror back whatever they used to address me? (So, if they use nothing, I use nothing, if they use ma'am, I use ma'am/sir... but honestly it's so unusual for me to use most honorifics that even if they ma'am me I might not reciprocate.)

The only safe greeting is obviously "compeer con-goer", or maybe "associate in attendance".


ETA: Eye*Non. Aw, bless.

Edited by Aoife, 12 January 2013 - 11:56 AM.


#7 Raja

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 11:56 AM

For someone I don't know, I usually go for Ma'am. Growing up, we called all our teachers/ Professors Ma'am, so that kinda just caught on. Though in a casual setting, I've often said "I met this girl the other day". Strange, I thought Ma'am was the safest option.

Edited by Raja, 12 January 2013 - 11:57 AM.


#8 Soylent Brown

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 11:57 AM

I was helping put up individual room schedules and I was approached by an older woman. She asked me if I knew where a particular panel was taking place. I said, "I'm sorry Ma'am, I don't know." She got angry and told me it was rude to call her "Ma'am."


I probably would have just gone with, "I'm sorry, I don't know." Man or woman.

I don't see the need to title everyone.

#9 Lummel

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 11:57 AM

Structure your sentence to avoid using a term of address would be my advice - 'Sorry, I don't know where that panel is taking place. Have you tried asking at the help desk in the main foyer?'

Alternatively if you can't help but use the terms of address you grew up using then change your dress to send clear signals to any potential interlocutor in advance that you are a southerner. /wink.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=';)' />

The woman was a trifle unreasonable in my opinion if that counts for anything.

#10 Tempra

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 11:58 AM

Tempra,

Do you mean "Ms." pronouned Mizzzz? I always foul that up and say "Miss".


I actually pronounce it "Miss" when saying something like "excuse me, Ms."

#11 Ser Scot A Ellison

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 11:59 AM

Aoife,

I suppose that's what messed me up. Making a direct statement to this woman without using some sort of "honorific" didn't feel right to me, perhaps in part because she was older. I think that's why I used "Ma'am" again while apologizing for giving offense. I was really flustered.

Lummel,

My accent is pretty mild (as I hope those who have met me will attest) and I hate seersucker. I don't know how I can convey my "southerness" without spending the entire con in a "Lynyrd Skynyrd" tee shirt, that I would have to purchase especially for this purpose.

/wink.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=';)' />

Edited by Ser Scot A Ellison, 12 January 2013 - 12:02 PM.


#12 Sci-2

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 12:00 PM

There is no proper way, its all a gamble.
This girl wants to be called a woman. That woman over there is offended if you called her a woman. The next chick likes to be called a ho. This one over here is a neo feminist and is offended by all gender specific labels.
Etc etc


Yeah, it's crazy how women think they are individuals. What's next, giving them equal pay?

Madness.

#13 lany cassandra

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 12:00 PM

I use the same as you Scot, so I must be frequently rude. I will even answer my friends with a "yes ma'am" and "yes sir"

#14 Daario's*before*Snows

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 12:01 PM

Yeah, it's crazy how women think they are individuals. What's next, giving them equal pay?

Madness.


You just lumped them all under the label of "women".
Looks like you are the one taking away individuality.

#15 Auntie Aoife Eto'o Zed

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 12:02 PM

Bear in mind, though, that humourless feminist alert here you're inherently making a gender call by using those particular terms. Most of the time, the term you use will probably match the person's identity, but I can only imagine how shitty it would feel for them if your term-of-choice wasn't actually right.

Edited by Aoife, 12 January 2013 - 12:03 PM.


#16 Tormund Ukrainesbane

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 12:04 PM

HELLO FELLOW HUMAN THIS IS A VERY TYPICAL EARTH DAY YES IT CERTAINLY QUITE A NORMAL DAY HERE ON EARTH WHERE WE ARE BOTH FROM I IMAGINE THE WEATHER ON ALTAIR 4 MAY BE YET MORE DESIRABLE HAHA BUT NEITHER OF US HUMANS WOULD KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT WOULD WE.

#17 Ser Scot A Ellison

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 12:05 PM

Aoife,

That is a very good point and at a Con I may very well run into that snag with more frequency than I do walking the courthouses of South Carolina.

#18 Tempra

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 12:07 PM

HELLO FELLOW HUMANTHIS IS A VERY TYPICAL EARTH DAY YES IT CERTAINLY QUITE A NORMAL DAY HERE ON EARTH WHERE WE ARE BOTH FROM I IMAGINE THE WEATHER ON ALTAIR 4 MAY BE YET MORE DESIRABLE HAHA BUT NEITHER OF US HUMANS WOULD KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT WOULD WE.


Don't be an ass. Earthling is gender neutral and not laden with misogynistic language.

#19 Ser Scot A Ellison

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 12:09 PM

Tempra,

I've always thought "Earthling" sounded demeaning. I like "Terran" or "Earther".

#20 Auntie Aoife Eto'o Zed

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 12:09 PM

HELLO FELLOW HUMAN THIS IS A VERY TYPICAL EARTH DAY YES IT CERTAINLY QUITE A NORMAL DAY HERE ON EARTH WHERE WE ARE BOTH FROM I IMAGINE THE WEATHER ON ALTAIR 4 MAY BE YET MORE DESIRABLE HAHA BUT NEITHER OF US HUMANS WOULD KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT WOULD WE.


HAR HAR LOOK AT WHO IMAGINES A PLANET NAMED AFTER A VIDJA GAME CHARACTER.
10 POINT
20 LAUGH
30 GOTO 10

(Shh, it's a joke.)



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