"Miss" vs. "Ma'am"

David Bowie db.list at PMPKN.NET
Tue Oct 29 15:51:36 UTC 2013

From:    Laurence Horn<laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>

> On Oct 28, 2013, at 5:06 PM, Benjamin Torbert wrote:
>> I'd like to make the point Dennis Preston made at a conference when Janet
>> Fuller was giving the "Ms" paper in that form.
>> Where I come from, Mrs, Miss, and Ms, are all homophonous as "miz."  That's
>> the Indiana side of Louisville in Preston's case, (I think), and NW Georgia
>> in mine (I know).
> True, but as remarked earlier in the thread, "Ms." is unlikely as a term of address as opposed to a title (followed by a last name).  And the same is typically (though not invariably) true for "Mrs."  So I think if one is addressed as /mIz/ or /mIs/ without a last name (or first name, in the old Southern style), I would wager it's "Miss" the speaker is uttering.  And as various sociolinguistic papers have demonstrated, the northern counterpart of "Ma'am" is often "Hon" or "Dear" (as discussed in Nessa Wolfson's paper "Don't Dear Me").
I'm not sure this is the case for the old-fashioned (i.e., my
grandparents' generation) use where i grew up (northeastern edge of the
South)—as far as i could tell, [mIs] with no name was simply a
ma'am-like word, generally with positive politeness connotations and not
making any sort of Miss/Mrs/Ms distinction at all.

David Bowie

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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