No, ma’am! I’m not your baby

I’m old now. The folks at AARP thoughtfully reminded me with a personalized membership card as a 50th birthday present.

AARPSo as old people sometimes do, I want to dispense a little free advice – communications advice, in this case – to all the young folks out there.

Add two important words to your daily vocabulary — Sir and Ma’am – to replace the nouns of address that too many people use when talking with complete strangers and casual acquaintances.

Except when talking to close relatives, friends, small children and devoted pets, delete the following from your vocabulary: Baby, Honey, Sweetie, Sugar, Sweetheart, Hon’ and Darlin’. When talking to people you don’t know well, avoid Brother, Man, Bro, Buddy, Dude, Guy and My Good Man.

Sir and Ma’am are wonderful, well-chosen words. They convey respect and can be used regardless of whether addressing a famous person, a next-door neighbor or a restaurant server. They are appropriate for greeting someone much younger or older or a peer.

As a child of the South, I learned Sir and Ma’am from my parents and used them with encouraged rigor. As a young adult, I saw how those words often separated me from my peers in the eyes of older adults. Like “please” and “thank you,” the words are genuinely appreciated by most people.

No one in my life, including those military veterans I’ve known, has employed the words with such regularity as Bill Estep, my former seatmate at the Lexington Herald-Leader. Whether he was talking to the President of the United States or a clerk handing him change, Bill unfailingly delivered “Ma’am” and “Sir” in his warm, comforting baritone.

So what’s wrong with Baby or Buddy? Don’t they show that you’re friendly?

Not really. Instead, they convey a sense of familiarity that’s usually not the case. I get these greetings (and did for many years before I became an AARP member) from people half my age whom I’ve never met.

The most frequent users in my life are restaurant servers, store clerks and other perfectly wonderful people who are working very hard to make me happy and getting paid less than they deserve. They don’t mean any harm or disrespect; they just didn’t have my Mom or good ol’ Bill to teach and reinforce the better choices.

I admit that I’ve used some of those “fake friendly” words with unfamiliar people because they are just so common. They are the dandelions of society’s front yard; you just can’t seem to get rid of them.

But ladies and gentlemen, you can do it. Sow the seeds of respect by using Sir or Ma’am and make a point to thank folks who address you with those words.

Now excuse me, young people. It’s time for shuffleboard and a nap.

Chad Carlton

C2 President

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