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How Does the Yes Sir, Yes Ma’am Etiquette Work? Should We Still Use It?

Years ago, the words “sir” and “ma’am” were often used to address men and women and to show respect. People expected you to say them.

Fast forward a few hundred years and that’s not the case. If you talk to people today, you may not hear them as often, if at all.

As with anything, things change, including the words we use in our everyday vocabulary. These days, some even find it offensive when someone refers to them as sir or ma’am. But, in reality, the words are still only meant as a sign of respect. 

We’re going to take a look at where the words originated and whether it’s appropriate for kids to use these honorifics when addressing adults.

The Origins of Sir and Ma’am 

The word sir dates back to the 1200s and is meant as a respectful way to address a man.

Its origins come from the word sire that was used in Britain as a form of address for knights and baronets. Over time, the “e” was dropped and the word simply became sir.

The word ma’am comes from madame and refers to “my dame” or “my lady”. It dates back to the 1300s. Originally it was said as madame, referring to any lady.

At one time it was used to address a married woman or a woman in power. To this day, the word still refers to any lady, no matter their age just as sir refers to any man, regardless of age.

Why Do Sir and Ma’am Offend Some People?

Some people don’t like to be called sir and ma’am because they think they are age-related and make them older than they are. Truthfully, sir and ma’am are not age-related at all.

Any adult can rightfully be called sir or ma’am. No one is trying to make them any older or mean any disrespect. On the contrary, they are trying to be respectful rather than say “hey lady” or “hey man” when they approach them.

When you consider the origins of both words, you can clearly see that there is nothing derogatory about them. They were meant as titles and simple ways to address others.

Some way, over the years, the words got twisted into some people thinking they were meant out of disrespect or to make someone older. This is why many people don’t like being called sir or ma’am.

education, elementary school, learning and people concept - group of school kids with teacher sitting in classroom and raising hands

Should Kids be Using Sir and Ma’am?

The answer here is going to be personal preference, but know that there is nothing wrong with kids using sir and ma’am. In fact, it can be a sign of respect that some people may appreciate. 

We often hear how kids can be disrespectful, so giving them an option to be more respectful should be something that’s welcomed.

You can teach your children the roots of the words so that they can know where they come from and that nothing disrespectful is meant by them at all.

This is helpful just in case they get questioned by someone or someone tries to tell them that they are being disrespectful when they are not.

On the flip side, some parents don’t want their kids to be using the words for one reason or another.

Some parents don’t think that the words are a sign of respect and some just don’t want them to use the words at all. It’s a matter of parenting preference.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to using sir or ma’am to address people, there’s nothing disrespectful or age-related at all. They are just simple words that kids can use to address adults.

While some adults may think the words refer to them as being older than they are, that’s not the truth at all.

Wanting your child to use sir or ma’am comes down to parenting preference. Some parents are all for it, while others shy away. While the times have changed, sir and ma’am have survived, and remain a part of many children’s vocabulary.