“Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Mon Jan 12, 2015 10:20 pm UTC

Qaanol wrote: I’d also appreciate ideas for some cogent arguments to help change my friend’s mind (or mine).
Were I you, I"d have the following questions for your friend:

Would he have a problem with a general publicly criticizing one of their captains?

If a recruit called a lieutenant general "lieutenant", would the general wait to tell the recruit privately or would they correct the accidental disrespect at once?

What's the non-deferential honorific? Senator Boxer likely suspected he was using the same term he'd use to address "just some woman"; is "ma'am" one size fits all or did General Walsh actually show special respect?
However I am told that affront to Senator Boxer’s words was widespread in the military, and I defer to my friend’s knowledge on that point.
I'd suspect the affront lies in the ignorance and disregard of military culture, much like Obama's latte salute. Between context, posture, and tone, the senator could have told ma'amsuperior officer from ma'amsome woman, had she understood military culture better. I can sympathize with this somewhat and would say that people have some onus to understand cultures around them; however, I still wouldn't expect most civilians to know to expect sir/ma'am all the way up.
mcd001 wrote:I can confirm that sir and ma'am are normal, respectful, and acceptable terms to use when addressing superior officers. I am astonished to learn that it is disrespectful to address a Senator as sir or ma'am.
I'm astonished you don't understand civilian honorifics; I guess I shouldn't be; the system is archaic, silly, and very classicist. Not that anyone cares, but implying she's a superior officer is also a slight insult, since her station is above all military members.
To me, Senator Boxer looked like a pompous ass when she interrupted the General and asked to be called Senator.
The intent is always ambiguous in these situations, but as a see it: a senate hearing is an extremely formal event and it's appropriate to insist on formal terminology.
her insistance on being addressed by her title (as if there was any doubt by anyone in the room)
Sadly, I can believe. I'll take this specific general's word that he simply meant "person that outranks me", but I wouldn't be surprised if Senator Boxer has encountered 1) meeting some idiot who assumes one of her male aides is the senator 2) a detractor who knows full well who she and is downplaying her position.
And for the record, if any senior officers (whether male or female) had demanded that I address them by rank, I would have considered them to be pompous asses (even while I kept that opinion to myself).
Fair enough. But youplural also literally wear your exact rank on your sleeves (or rather shoulders) and I'd assume everyone is very aware of who outranks whom.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Qaanol » Tue Jan 13, 2015 12:37 am UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Disrespectful, not shaming. I don't see indication that she was attempting to make him ashamed as a result. I'm not sure that she was intending to be disrespectful, either. Could be just one of those miscommunications that happens when people come from different backgrounds, etc. Or it could have simply been rude/a power thing. *shrug* Disrespectful is a safe assessment, though.

I’m still not seeing how asking to be called Senator is disrespectful.

Tyndmyr wrote:It's a display of power. In the US, at least, using a position of power to correct someone when the other person hasn't really done anything wrong is rude.

It's as if your boss called you in, and you came into his office asking "What do you want, sir?", and he stated you were not to call him that, but to call him "boss". Yes, he CAN do that. But he's also a jackass for doing so.

I don’t see it as correcting someone, but rather informing someone of one’s preference. Would your view of the exchange be different if we knew why Senator Boxer made her request? For example, what if she…

a. Had a personal negative association with the word Ma’am, because in the past it had been thrown at her in a derogatory manner?

b. Objected to the use of a term that puts any focus at all on gender, because it is irrelevant to the hearing?

c. Felt that the widespread culture in which references to femininity frequently carry an undertone of weakness or inadequacy, and in which gendered terms are commonly used in situations where gender is entirely superfluous, is detrimental to the principle of equality, especially in light of the longstanding and ongoing systemic bias and discrimination against women, which manifests in both overt and insidious forms, yet out of deference to the scope of the hearing she chose not to bring up the larger issue and simply requested that one particular term should not be applied to her in the context at hand?

There are of course innumerable possible reasons she may have had, but my question remains: is there any possible explanation which, if we knew it, would change your perception of her request?

Tyndmyr wrote:Likely, yes. Then it falls into being strictly rude. Lack of familiarity usually excuses a certain degree of rudeness, and not knowing Sen. Boxer well, I wanted to leave open the possibility rather than jumping to a particular conclusion.

I’d appreciate more detail on what aspects you see as rude, and if you can think of a line of reasoning that might change your mind.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby morriswalters » Tue Jan 13, 2015 1:19 am UTC

I don't care for the Senate, the current incarnation is somewhat shallow, or stupid, or both. But they are the senior elected officials who make law for this country. And the correct address according to protocol is "Senator". And when they refer to each other they use terms like the right Honorable Senator from Virginia for instance. Formality is what it is, and he should have known. Respect the office if you don't respect the person holding it.

This is a link to a transcript of a Senate hearing. Lots of "Senator" peppered through it, even though the atmosphere is very congenial otherwise.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby BattleMoose » Tue Jan 13, 2015 1:22 am UTC

A bit of this discussion has been claiming that the Senator doesn't understand military protocol and what it means to be called ma'am. This may or may not be true.

But this assumes its appropriate to use military protocol in a civilian environment. It should not be assumed that it's appropriate to use military protocol in a civilian environment.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby mcd001 » Tue Jan 13, 2015 1:22 am UTC

Quizatzhaderac wrote:I'm astonished you don't understand civilian honorifics; I guess I shouldn't be; the system is archaic, silly, and very classicist. Not that anyone cares, but implying she's a superior officer is also a slight insult, since her station is above all military members.

No need for astonishment; I absolutely understand civilian honorifics. Where I come from, Sir and Ma'am are not just used in the military. They are polite and respectful honorifics appropriate even in civilian circles. I also know the difference between a military officer and a Senator and did not actually make the implication you accuse me of. (If in doubt, re-read my post.)

Quizatzhaderac wrote:Fair enough. But you plural also literally wear your exact rank on your sleeves (or rather shoulders) and I'd assume everyone is very aware of who outranks whom.

True. Just like at a Senate hearing.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Tue Jan 13, 2015 2:49 pm UTC

This Thread reminds me of Plato's Cave.
Shadows of Shadows.

How many pages will we write, before we ask,
"Has that Project been turned in and Accepted?"

Do you ever thing about Why an officer might disobey a direct order?
I do.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Tue Jan 13, 2015 3:27 pm UTC

mcd001 wrote:I absolutely understand civilian honorifics. Where I come from, Sir and Ma'am are not just used in the military. They are polite and respectful honorifics appropriate even in civilian circles
So do you address doctors, clergy, police officers, civilian professors and judges as sir/ma'am? And it's not that the terms are inherently disrespectful, it's that they don't apply to everybody; calling you "sir" (assuming you're a man) is respectful, calling you "ma'am" isn't . It's perfectly fine to call normal people sir/ma'am, but people in certain special positions get special forms of address.
I also know the difference between a military officer and a Senator and did not actually make the implication you accuse me of.
I'm sure you and the general do know the difference, but your language doesn't; it's nice to be able to judge people by what they actually mean, but we generally need to go by what they say.
True. Just like at a Senate hearing.
Exactly. The military does it with jewelry and the senate does it verbally; servicepeople don't say "first lieutenant Johnson, commander of such and such" every five minutes and senators don't wear gold chains that say "Majority Whip".
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby sam_i_am » Tue Jan 13, 2015 4:04 pm UTC

Qaanol wrote:I’m having a disagreement with a good friend of mine, and before we discuss it further I’d like to hear what everyone here has to say. The short version is, my friend thinks Senator Barbara Boxer was disrespectful toward General Michael Walsh when she asked him to call her Senator instead of Ma’am during a televised committee hearing in 2009, and that she was shaming him by doing so. I disagree on both counts.

Background / transcript :
Spoiler:
As you may recall, some 5½ years ago Senator Barbara Boxer asked Brigadier General Michael Walsh, “Well why has it been delayed?”, and he began his response with, “Ma’am, at the LACPR…”

Senator Boxer interjected “You know, do me a favor, could you say Senator instead of Ma’am? It’s just the thing, I worked so hard to get that title so I’d appreciate it, yes thank you.”

General Walsh replied, “Yes Senator,” and continued to answer the question.

Here is a clip of the exchange: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0CprVYsG0k

And an NPR story from a few days after it happened: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105717857

I’m not just looking for confirmation that I’m right (or refutation thereof), I’d also appreciate ideas for some cogent arguments to help change my friend’s mind (or mine). For context, my friend is highly intelligent and currently in law school (I am not).


What would you say if a male senator asked someone to call him "Senator" instead of "Sir"?

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Jan 13, 2015 4:29 pm UTC

Quizatzhaderac wrote:
Qaanol wrote: I’d also appreciate ideas for some cogent arguments to help change my friend’s mind (or mine).
Were I you, I"d have the following questions for your friend:

Would he have a problem with a general publicly criticizing one of their captains?

If a recruit called a lieutenant general "lieutenant", would the general wait to tell the recruit privately or would they correct the accidental disrespect at once?


The former, yes. It's unprofessional. Dressings down like that should be done in private, unless there's a very good reason why it has to happen immediately. Officers are not supposed to be publicly squabbling with each other.

A recruit will, bluntly, not be likely to meet generals. In the event that such a mistake is made, the general will not be handling the mistake himself. Instead, the trainer will be correcting the the trainee.

BattleMoose wrote:A bit of this discussion has been claiming that the Senator doesn't understand military protocol and what it means to be called ma'am. This may or may not be true.

But this assumes its appropriate to use military protocol in a civilian environment. It should not be assumed that it's appropriate to use military protocol in a civilian environment.


When you are testifying before congress/senate in an official capacity, you are in a military environment. You are representing the military, and are expected to behave in an appropriate fashion. Wearing the uniform(correctly), etc. Such expectations are made most clear if you're in the military. This is not an assumption, this is how things are done.

And yes, sir and ma'am have a civilian meaning that is quite similar to their military meaning, so it shouldn't be a significant comprehension problem for others.

Qaanol wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:Disrespectful, not shaming. I don't see indication that she was attempting to make him ashamed as a result. I'm not sure that she was intending to be disrespectful, either. Could be just one of those miscommunications that happens when people come from different backgrounds, etc. Or it could have simply been rude/a power thing. *shrug* Disrespectful is a safe assessment, though.

I’m still not seeing how asking to be called Senator is disrespectful.


He was using a correct title. Senator isn't a bad title, and there's nothing inherently wrong with addressing people as that, or asking people to address you as that. But what she did was the equivalent of the fellow with a doctorate degree who demands everyone call them a doctor. Yes, it's a valid title. But unless you're a medical doctor in a hospital, if you correct someone for calling you sir, you're bucking tradition, and doing so is a bit rude.

Qaanol wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:It's a display of power. In the US, at least, using a position of power to correct someone when the other person hasn't really done anything wrong is rude.

It's as if your boss called you in, and you came into his office asking "What do you want, sir?", and he stated you were not to call him that, but to call him "boss". Yes, he CAN do that. But he's also a jackass for doing so.

I don’t see it as correcting someone, but rather informing someone of one’s preference. Would your view of the exchange be different if we knew why Senator Boxer made her request? For example, what if she…

a. Had a personal negative association with the word Ma’am, because in the past it had been thrown at her in a derogatory manner?

b. Objected to the use of a term that puts any focus at all on gender, because it is irrelevant to the hearing?

c. Felt that the widespread culture in which references to femininity frequently carry an undertone of weakness or inadequacy, and in which gendered terms are commonly used in situations where gender is entirely superfluous, is detrimental to the principle of equality, especially in light of the longstanding and ongoing systemic bias and discrimination against women, which manifests in both overt and insidious forms, yet out of deference to the scope of the hearing she chose not to bring up the larger issue and simply requested that one particular term should not be applied to her in the context at hand?

There are of course innumerable possible reasons she may have had, but my question remains: is there any possible explanation which, if we knew it, would change your perception of her request?


No. None of those matter. If you wish to change military customs and courtesies, either pass a law or speak to the joint chiefs. One does not simply insist on doing it differently.

The military is different in some regards to civilian contexts. In particular, customs and courtesies are remarkably formalized and standardized. In addition, there are unwritten practices that are nigh-universal. Practices that may not seem like a big deal to someone without a military background can be within that subculture. In the military, you do not correct people on the use of sir/ma'am in most circumstances(notable exception: If, as an NCO, you believe they have mistaken you for an officer.). If a commander got annoyed when you called him sir, that would also be really weird, that commander would be viewed as a jackass, and people might actually make a big deal out of it with written complaints, etc(obviously, this isn't the case for a senator, because the situation is a little different).

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Azrael » Tue Jan 13, 2015 4:35 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:
BattleMoose wrote:A bit of this discussion has been claiming that the Senator doesn't understand military protocol and what it means to be called ma'am. This may or may not be true.

But this assumes its appropriate to use military protocol in a civilian environment. It should not be assumed that it's appropriate to use military protocol in a civilian environment.

When you are testifying before congress/senate in an official capacity, you are in a military environment. You are representing the military, and are expected to behave in an appropriate fashion. Wearing the uniform(correctly), etc. Such expectations are made most clear if you're in the military. This is not an assumption, this is how things are done.

Bullshit. When you're called before the Senate to testify you are representing the military, and expected to dress and act accordingly. It is certainly is not a military environment.

You can tell from the lack of saluting, standing at attention when a someone yells 'officer on deck', or being given orders and dismissed, or being on or in a military fort, facility or vessel ... or any one of the clearly-this-isn't-a-military-environment indicators that are completely obvious. Mainly, being in the Capitol. The presence of a General visiting the Capitol doesn't magically transform the seat of the civilian legislature into a military environment.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Diadem » Tue Jan 13, 2015 4:38 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:No. None of those matter. If you wish to change military customs and courtesies, either pass a law or speak to the joint chiefs. One does not simply insist on doing it differently.

But what does military custom have to do with anything? I mean, it allows us to understand where the general was coming from, but apart from that? This happened not in a barracks, but in the senate. It's senate customs we should look at, not military ones.

Earlier you wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:She was. He's military, you use sir for male superiors, ma'am for female. Use of the formal title is fine as well, depending on context, but sir/ma'am is utterly standardized within the military and is a little like objecting because a military guy saluted. At *best*, it indicates a lack of familiarity with the military.

The senator may or may not have been familiar with military customs, I don't know, but it's not relevant anyway. The military and the senate each have their own customs. But the senate is the higher ranking body and this happened on the floor of the senate. Senate customs apply here, not military ones.

Of course it's still an extremely minor issue either way.

*edit*: Looks like I got thoroughly ninja'd.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Jan 13, 2015 5:55 pm UTC

Azrael wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:
BattleMoose wrote:A bit of this discussion has been claiming that the Senator doesn't understand military protocol and what it means to be called ma'am. This may or may not be true.

But this assumes its appropriate to use military protocol in a civilian environment. It should not be assumed that it's appropriate to use military protocol in a civilian environment.

When you are testifying before congress/senate in an official capacity, you are in a military environment. You are representing the military, and are expected to behave in an appropriate fashion. Wearing the uniform(correctly), etc. Such expectations are made most clear if you're in the military. This is not an assumption, this is how things are done.

Bullshit. When you're called before the Senate to testify you are representing the military, and expected to dress and act accordingly. It is certainly is not a military environment.

You can tell from the lack of saluting, standing at attention when a someone yells 'officer on deck', or being given orders and dismissed, or being on or in a military fort, facility or vessel ... or any one of the clearly-this-isn't-a-military-environment indicators that are completely obvious. Mainly, being in the Capitol. The presence of a General visiting the Capitol doesn't magically transform the seat of the civilian legislature into a military environment.


Military to military still salutes as appropriate when at the capital. You don't salute senators regardless of if in the Senate or elsewhere.

This isn't about if it becomes a military post or not, but if military behavior changes because you are off base. In this instance(as in many), it does not. However, reporting to civilian oversight is a normal part of the military environment at that rank. He did so entirely appropriately. Generally, when someone addresses you properly for the circumstances, it is mildly impolite to request different forms of address, and can come across as a demonstration of power.

It's a small point of social norms, perhaps, but in an area that is significantly more important for the military than most.

Diadem wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:No. None of those matter. If you wish to change military customs and courtesies, either pass a law or speak to the joint chiefs. One does not simply insist on doing it differently.

But what does military custom have to do with anything? I mean, it allows us to understand where the general was coming from, but apart from that? This happened not in a barracks, but in the senate. It's senate customs we should look at, not military ones.


There is protocol and custom for military interfacing with civilian authorities. This is normal. They are not exactly the same as civilian/civilian habits. Nor is it reasonable for such to be expected.

Tyndmyr wrote:She was. He's military, you use sir for male superiors, ma'am for female. Use of the formal title is fine as well, depending on context, but sir/ma'am is utterly standardized within the military and is a little like objecting because a military guy saluted. At *best*, it indicates a lack of familiarity with the military.

The senator may or may not have been familiar with military customs, I don't know, but it's not relevant anyway. The military and the senate each have their own customs. But the senate is the higher ranking body and this happened on the floor of the senate. Senate customs apply here, not military ones.

Of course it's still an extremely minor issue either way.

*edit*: Looks like I got thoroughly ninja'd.


It is minor, yes. It's a passing rudeness that was handled appropriately by the general who didn't make a big deal out of it(as was proper).

But a senator is not in the chain of command. A senator does not have the authority to suspend military customs at will. They have authority, certainly, but her use here is indeed out of the norm, and is definitely disrespectful. It is not simply a matter of "higher rank can do as they wish". After all, a general who "corrected" lower ranking military members who said sir would still be seen a jerk. Probably more so, because of the mil/mil context.

*edited to fix quote issues*
Last edited by Tyndmyr on Wed Jan 14, 2015 9:15 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby mcd001 » Tue Jan 13, 2015 7:13 pm UTC

Quizatzhaderac wrote:So do you address doctors, clergy, police officers, civilian professors and judges as sir/ma'am? And it's not that the terms are inherently disrespectful, it's that they don't apply to everybody;

Actually, I do address them (all of the above, and more) as sir/ma'am. For example, when I was a student in college and I needed to see one of my professors, I would go to his office during visiting hours. The door's open and he's sitting at his desk. I knock on the door frame; he looks up. I say: "Excuse me, sir, do you have a minute?" He say's "Sure, come in, I'll be right with you." No one ever said, "Please call me Professor." If someone had, I would have called him Professor, but I also would have thought he was being a pompous ass.

Similarly, I've been pulled over by a female police officer. She asked to see my license and registration. I said, "Yes ma'am." She did not say, "Please call me Officer." If she had, I would have thought she was being a pompous ass.

I've been in small-claims court and the judge had no issues when I answered his questions with "yes, sir" and "no, sir". He struck me as the no-nonsense sort. I believe he would have let me know if I was doing something wrong, but he seemed completely okay with it.

Was I being disrespectful to any of the above people? I don't think so.

Quizatzhaderac wrote:it's not that the terms are inherently disrespectful, it's that they don't apply to everybody; calling you "sir" (assuming you're a man) is respectful, calling you "ma'am" isn't .

I can't quite wrap my brain around that: the two terms (sir/ma'am) are analogous for their respective genders. The first definition of ma'am on merriam webster is '—used to politely speak to a woman who you do not know'. (The second is '—used to speak to the Queen or to a woman of high rank in the police or military'.) I'm pretty sure these definitions mean that ma'am is NEVER disrespectful, even when speaking to Senators.

Sorry, but the more I ponder this, the more I'm convinced that Senator Boxer was on an ego trip. Everyone in that hearing room knew she was a senator, but by making a point of it she only made herself appear petty and egotistical.

So having said this, I realize that I have not yet responded to the original topic: Was Senator Boxer’s request that she be addressed as 'Senator' disrespectful to General Walsh, or an attempt to publicly shame him?

I believe the answer is 'no' and 'no'. I believe her request came more from an over-abundance of self-importance than from any concious desire to belittle or humiliate the General. While I can see how some may think it was disrespectful, that was not *my* first reaction.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Azrael » Tue Jan 13, 2015 7:24 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:This isn't about if it becomes a military post or not, but if military behavior changes because you are off base. In this instance(as in many), it does not. However, reporting to civilian oversight is a normal part of the military environment at that rank. He did so entirely appropriately.


Except, as previously noted, 'Senator' was the appropriate response.

Plus, no matter your mental gymnastics, no the Capitol building during a Senate hearing is not a military environment. It is the very definition of civilian oversight. Otherwise, all places a solider could be while acting in a manner compliant with regulation or while undertaking his duties would be a military environment. Not only would the rest of the world be really intrigued by this occupation, it would entirely negate the distinction between civilian and military environments.

The color guard at a memorial service does not make the memorial service a military environment. An officer in the national guard at a press conference where they are part of a briefing regarding disaster relief does not make it a military environment. The soldier at the pizza place next to me at lunch today did not turn Steve's into a military environment.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Tue Jan 13, 2015 8:10 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Dressings down like that should be done in private, unless there's a very good reason why it has to happen immediately.
Officers are not supposed to be publicly squabbling with each other.

That was not two officers squabbling.

Do you think that man thinks that woman is his Boss?
Do you think he thinks she is anywhere near his Equal?

Do you?
Why?

Who are his Equals?
Squabbles?

Sqaubbles happen.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Djehutynakht » Tue Jan 13, 2015 8:16 pm UTC

"Sir" and "Ma'am" are general-use honorifics that, honestly, can be applied to absolutely any member of society when one wishes to show them an appearance of formal respect. There is no formal protocol for the use of "sir" or "ma'am" as a whole, although some places (e.g. the Military) might have their use encoded somewhere (such as "Address a superior officer as..._")... but that use isn't exclusive.


I don't think it was out of line for him to call her "Ma'am". It's a common thing. And, to be fair, "Ma'am" is not on some sort of "lower" level than Senator. Addressing someone as "Ma'am" doesn't show a lesser form of respect... Senator is just an honorific referring specifically to one's elected position. It's no less honorable to be called "Ma'am" than to be called "Senator" (or "Sir" instead of "Senator"). And as iterated... "higher" government officials are often called "Sir" or "Ma'am". When the US has a female president, she will probably be called "Ma'am" quite often by military officials, just as they called the male presidents "sir").

It's not terribly uncommon to refer to a male Senator as "Sir"... admittedly, probably not as common in a committee session, but outside of one.. sure.

And while, yes, the technical correct response is Senator, that's just nipping at someone for not abiding by the code of formality to the letter. "Ma'am" is a universally respectful term.



On the other hand, Senator Boxer wasn't particularly out of line for requesting to be called "Senator" either. As she said in the transcript, she worked hard for that title and probably wants to hear herself be called "Senator". Which is totally understandable. In addition, being called "Senator" distinguishes her from any other "Ma'am"s at a committee hearing, such as say, legal counsel. She probably could have picked a better time to slip in the request, but the thing itself is understandable.


In summary: Neither of them seemed out of line. It wasn't inherently disrespectful either for him to call her "Ma'am" or for her to request the honorific "Senator".

It's possible for them to have been disrespectful... He could have called her "Ma'am" in order to be snarky with her, and she could have corrected him in such a forward manner in order to shame him unnecessarily.

However, both of these are arbitrary assumptions, and without further evidence I'd go with the assumption that they were both in line.


(as a personal note, I've never quite liked addressing anyone as "Sir" or "Ma'am" inherently. I actually have sort of found them a bit pompous inherently. I'd prefer calling them "Senator" (or "Professor", "Doctor", etc.) any day... or at least "Madam" instead of "Ma'am").

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Tue Jan 13, 2015 9:06 pm UTC

To be clear, I think General Walsh is a courteous and professional person who made a small mistake of etiquette.

Tyndmyr wrote:In the military, you do not correct people on the use of sir/ma'am in most circumstances(notable exception: If, as an NCO, you believe they have mistaken you for an officer.
Is this correction instantly or in private? Or to make it more like the events in the senate, if somebody addressed a superior officer as an inferior would that stand until the superior could correct it in private or right away?
You are representing the military, and are expected to behave in an appropriate fashion. Wearing the uniform(correctly), etc. Such expectations are made most clear if you're in the military. This is not an assumption, this is how things are done.
So your not allowed to consider what's appropriate for the context? If you're in Japan, are you allowed to speak Japanese with Japanese honorifics? Is it considered "appropriate" to imply everyone is a elderly beggar if that's hat closest matches military custom?

Also, your logic would seem to imply he should have kept addressing her as ma'am, even after the correction or if she threatened to hold him in contempt of congress.
sir and ma'am have a civilian meaning that is quite similar to their military meaning
We've already established they they don't. The civilian "Ma'am" (often) means woman without special position, calling every woman ma'am is analogous to calling everyone in the army "private".
But unless you're a medical doctor in a hospital, if you correct someone for calling you sir, you're bucking tradition, and doing so is a bit rude.
Yes, she was a medical doctor in a hospital, or rather a senator in a senate hearing. She was not bucking any tradition she was part of, the transcripts clearly show everyone calling everyone "senator", at the very least.
No. None of those matter.
They matter to whether she was being a pompous ass or disrespectful. By saying is military custom is the only relevant thing you're either saying the senator is beholden to unwritten military custom or nothing about the senator at all.

If we want to make a statement about the senator, information about the senator is relevant. To take the extreme: if She had good reason to believe
If you wish to change military customs and courtesies, either pass a law or speak to the joint chiefs.
That has already happened. As was noted earlier in the threat, the military has a official explicit policy to address senators as "senator", not sir or ma'am.
They have authority, certainly, but her use here is indeed out of the norm, and is definitely disrespectful.
The military norm, senate norm, or general American norm? The military norm, yes. The senate norm, no: they're super formal and it's their job to squabble with each other all day. General American? no such thing. IMHO it's polite to correct contradict people as long as it's done in the right way: The senator was brief and courteous with her correction and she made it about herself (my preference, not your fault).
mcd001 wrote:Was I being disrespectful to any of the above people? I don't think so.
I'm sure your intent was to be respectful and interpreted as such. If I wanted to exaggerate, I'd call you "unsophisticated".

But different regions of the anglosphere have different traditions I remember in high school in New York reading an autobiography where the author was thrown from a moving vehicle for addressing someone as <last name> instead of Mr. <last name> while meanwhile having friends who's first names I didn't know because the simple <last name> pattern was so common to me.
The first definition of ma'am on merriam webster is '—used to politely speak to a woman who you do not know'. (The second is '—used to speak to the Queen or to a woman of high rank in the police or military'.) I'm pretty sure these definitions mean that ma'am is NEVER disrespectful, even when speaking to Senators.
The pattern for the Queen is similar to the president: "your Majesty" once then "Ma'am" in continued conversation, you still shouldn't just call her ma'am.

The definition "a woman who you do not know" is the relevant one here. One isn't expected to recognize a doctor or professor or senator on sight, you have to address them as "just some person". One doesn't defer to "Just some woman", if fact many men expect her to defer to him. For you (as someone who just uses one form of formal address) that indicates basically nothing. For someone who does use special forms of address for special people, omitting the special address can imply ignorance, disregard or disrespect for holder's role.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby mcd001 » Tue Jan 13, 2015 10:01 pm UTC

Quizatzhaderac wrote:you still shouldn't just call her ma'am.

For you (as someone who just uses one form of formal address)...

Okay, NOW your posts make sense to me. Apparently you were assuming that I ONLY use sir or ma'am, and never address people by their titles, while I assumed you were saying it was NEVER appropriate to use sir or ma'am.
When someone has a rank or title, I will use it, but not frequently (in a similar manner to the 'Queen' example above). Otherwise, the conversation will become as stilted and awkward-sounding as a... as a debate on the Senate floor.

Quizatzhaderac wrote:I remember in high school in New York reading an autobiography where the author was thrown from a moving vehicle for addressing someone as <last name> instead of Mr. <last name>

Hasn't happened to me yet, but it would certainly get my attention.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Wed Jan 14, 2015 12:24 am UTC

Did that man ever do the job he was instructed by the US Senate to do?
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed Jan 14, 2015 9:41 pm UTC

mcd001 wrote:Sorry, but the more I ponder this, the more I'm convinced that Senator Boxer was on an ego trip. Everyone in that hearing room knew she was a senator, but by making a point of it she only made herself appear petty and egotistical.


It is definitely different when you are correcting a misunderstanding of meaning, rather than going from one correct title to another. For instance, if you accidentally address a woman as "sir", it would be entirely normal and appropriate for her to correct that, you give a brief sorry, etc, and then you both continue on. Happens.

So having said this, I realize that I have not yet responded to the original topic: Was Senator Boxer’s request that she be addressed as 'Senator' disrespectful to General Walsh, or an attempt to publicly shame him?


I think, not knowing any history between the two, merely disrespectful. A title correction does not rise to the level of shaming. Also, a general is expected to be able to handle a certain degree of hostility without blinking. Comes with the job. Had he taken offense instead of responding as he did, surely that would also raise eyebrows.

Azrael wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:This isn't about if it becomes a military post or not, but if military behavior changes because you are off base. In this instance(as in many), it does not. However, reporting to civilian oversight is a normal part of the military environment at that rank. He did so entirely appropriately.


Except, as previously noted, 'Senator' was the appropriate response.

Plus, no matter your mental gymnastics, no the Capitol building during a Senate hearing is not a military environment. It is the very definition of civilian oversight. Otherwise, all places a solider could be while acting in a manner compliant with regulation or while undertaking his duties would be a military environment. Not only would the rest of the world be really intrigued by this occupation, it would entirely negate the distinction between civilian and military environments.


Sir/Ma'am is utterly normal, and is socially damned universally accepted and has been for ages, website be damned. Senator isn't *wrong*, but Sir/Ma'am is not only also correct, it would be the expected response in a military context. Additionally, the army guide lists sir, ma'am AND senator as proper forms of address. Senator was AN appropriate response, not THE appropriate response.

Also, you're getting off track on the "environment" thing. This isn't an issue of legitimate targeting or something, this is a question of formalities. Environment should be taken only to mean "the soldier is expected to behave in a military fashion, and is performing a military function". The absurdisms you're bringing up are irrelevant.

Azrael wrote:The color guard at a memorial service does not make the memorial service a military environment.


And yet, the color guard at a memorial service is subject to quite stringent military rules as to precisely how they should behave, and nobody thinks this should be "corrected", and it would be more than a little silly for civilians to tell them to relax while they are standing at attention. They are there representing the military, and you should expect them to behave as such.

"Sir" and "Ma'am" are general-use honorifics that, honestly, can be applied to absolutely any member of society when one wishes to show them an appearance of formal respect. There is no formal protocol for the use of "sir" or "ma'am" as a whole, although some places (e.g. the Military) might have their use encoded somewhere (such as "Address a superior officer as..._")... but that use isn't exclusive.


This is of course also true. The military context simply makes it much more pervasive. Use of "sir" or "ma'am" in a civilian context is generally entirely fine and respectful.

Quizatzhaderac wrote:To be clear, I think General Walsh is a courteous and professional person who made a small mistake of etiquette.

Tyndmyr wrote:In the military, you do not correct people on the use of sir/ma'am in most circumstances(notable exception: If, as an NCO, you believe they have mistaken you for an officer.
Is this correction instantly or in private? Or to make it more like the events in the senate, if somebody addressed a superior officer as an inferior would that stand until the superior could correct it in private or right away?


Superior/inferior would be corrected right away. Note that this example is NOT what was happening her. Had he referred to her by some title indicating that she was inferior to him, that would be quite rude, and would normally call for immediate correction. This is not what we are talking about here, however.

You are representing the military, and are expected to behave in an appropriate fashion. Wearing the uniform(correctly), etc. Such expectations are made most clear if you're in the military. This is not an assumption, this is how things are done.
So your not allowed to consider what's appropriate for the context? If you're in Japan, are you allowed to speak Japanese with Japanese honorifics? Is it considered "appropriate" to imply everyone is a elderly beggar if that's hat closest matches military custom?


Well...considering that this isn't how Japan works, I'm having trouble understanding your example. Obviously, if you're speaking a different language, you're using that language and titles within it, but...that's not really applicable here.

And it's not as if foreign languages lack equivalents to "sir". Generic titles of respect are *extremely* common.

Also, your logic would seem to imply he should have kept addressing her as ma'am, even after the correction or if she threatened to hold him in contempt of congress.


No. That would be stupid, both politically and practically. He used a perfectly correct, valid title. She was somewhat rude in "correcting" to another title(which is still an accurate one). Simply getting on with things is the wise course for him there. But that doesn't mean he was being rude initially.

No. None of those matter.
They matter to whether she was being a pompous ass or disrespectful. By saying is military custom is the only relevant thing you're either saying the senator is beholden to unwritten military custom or nothing about the senator at all.


Those would, at most, explain why the senator was being disrespectful, or perhaps shine light on her motivations. They would not change the fact that she was being disrespectful. If I see you randomly on a street and address you by an epithet, that would be most rude, yes? Surely, there are reasons behind it. There always are. Learning of them may or may not be interesting or illuminating, but it's still rude to yell names at strangers on the street.

Sir/Ma'am is not exceptional, even in the senate, to a senator. Using it is not a faux paux. This is entirely seperate from the military connotation. But, the military connotation makes it exceedingly clear that the general intended it respectfully. I dare say that sir/ma'am is usually spoken a lot more respectfully than senator is.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Wed Jan 14, 2015 11:09 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Superior/inferior would be corrected right away. Note that this example is NOT what was happening her. Had he referred to her by some title indicating that she was inferior to him, that would be quite rude, and would normally call for immediate correction. This is not what we are talking about here, however.
Again, you're failing to consider this on her terms: "ma'am" < "private" < "general" < "senator". The general obviously didn't intend that, but in the senate they use at least the base title every time and he implied something he didn't mean.
They would not change the fact that she was being disrespectful. If I see you randomly on a street and address you by an epithet, that would be most rude, yes? Surely, there are reasons behind it. There always are. Learning of them may or may not be interesting or illuminating, but it's still rude to yell names at strangers on the street.
Well yes, using that method: the senator was disrespectful of the general and the general was disrespectful of the senator; both failed to show each other the respect they expected.
and it would be more than a little silly for civilians to tell them to relax while they are standing at attention.
We're not talking about a lesser standard of formality here, we're talking about a greater one. The civilians aren't saying: "relax, no need to stand in formation", they're saying "Your formation involves standing on graves, please stop that."

It's well and good to have a minimum standard for officers that they follow even in situations where nothing but their military association calls for it, but that's not a prerogative to disregard other rules of etiquette elsewhere.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Azrael » Wed Jan 14, 2015 11:54 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Sir/Ma'am is utterly normal, and is socially damned universally accepted and has been for ages, website be damned. Senator isn't *wrong*, but Sir/Ma'am is not only also correct, it would be the expected response in a military context.

In a military context when addressing a Senator, the correct title is Senator. In a military context when addressing an officer, it would be Sir or Ma'am.

Because remember:
Tyndmyr wrote:...and it would be more than a little silly for civilians to tell them to relax while they are standing at attention. They are there representing the military, and you should expect them to behave as such...

Which is the best argument you've made yet that he should have used Senator, not the much less formal Sir/Ma'am.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby morriswalters » Thu Jan 15, 2015 12:10 am UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Sir/Ma'am is utterly normal, and is socially damned universally accepted and has been for ages, website be damned. Senator isn't *wrong*, but Sir/Ma'am is not only also correct, it would be the expected response in a military context. Additionally, the army guide lists sir, ma'am AND senator as proper forms of address. Senator was AN appropriate response, not THE appropriate response.
Animal crackers. Come to my house, play by my rules. Ma'am is certainly a polite title, I called my mother ma'am, and any other women of uncertain status. Was the Senators status unknown to him? He got careless and she spanked him. I actually thought she was relatively polite. I posted some transcripts, his seniors certainly knew how to address Senators. The public act called a Senate hearing is full of form and protocol. They talk to each other in formal tones and with formal phrases. She has an ego and so do her male colleagues. And they want their due as what they are. Ma'am isn't her title, Senator is.
Tyndmyr wrote:Sir/Ma'am is not exceptional, even in the senate, to a senator.
Have you really listened to them during hearings? I've posted some data and it shouldn't be hard for the OP to connect the dots and make points for his case. We have thousands of exemplars to examine. Hell if you want to, examine Oliver North's testimony in the Senate. That would be illuminating to the point. The transcript's are available. The transcripts of the testimony of the Joint Chiefs in Senate hearings are also available, I posted a link to one.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Thu Jan 15, 2015 4:59 am UTC

What do you think he was briefed on, if not how to address The Bench?
He sure as shit was not given the papers the Senate asked for.

ohhh! Maybe, he Was given those papers.
He has them and No Bitch is going to get them From Him.
He's a fucking General. He does not take orders from her.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby IceFlake » Thu Jan 15, 2015 9:15 am UTC

I've watched the youtube clip but can't find any longer footage of the hearing. Is it possible that the general had addressed other members of the senate, perhaps male ones, as "Senator" but then used "ma'am" for Sen. Boxer?
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Jan 15, 2015 4:29 pm UTC

Azrael wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:Sir/Ma'am is utterly normal, and is socially damned universally accepted and has been for ages, website be damned. Senator isn't *wrong*, but Sir/Ma'am is not only also correct, it would be the expected response in a military context.

In a military context when addressing a Senator, the correct title is Senator. In a military context when addressing an officer, it would be Sir or Ma'am.

Because remember:
Tyndmyr wrote:...and it would be more than a little silly for civilians to tell them to relax while they are standing at attention. They are there representing the military, and you should expect them to behave as such...

Which is the best argument you've made yet that he should have used Senator, not the much less formal Sir/Ma'am.


In a military context, when addressing a senator, the correct titles are any of the following: Senator, Sir, Ma'am.

Citation: Lt. Col Banks, the army official who stated such afterward. Or, if you prefer, Military Protocol: Uniformed Services(each service has essentially the same document, named slightly differently, but appending this to a google search with the appropriate branch should help you find whichever specific one you want).

Your definition of "correct" does not match the official one.

Even in a civilian context, use of sir/ma'am is not wrong. It happens all the time. Even at high level diplomatic events. Hell, you can go to England and call the queen Ma'am without going amiss.

IceFlake wrote:I've watched the youtube clip but can't find any longer footage of the hearing. Is it possible that the general had address other members of the senate, perhaps male ones, as "Senator" but then used "ma'am" for Sen. Boxer?


Previous footage has him calling the male senators* "sir". Nobody made a stink about that.

*Vitter, anyways. I did not watch the whole hearing because seriously, that sounds tedious as hell. I believe you *can* watch the whole hearing at http://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index. ... 8ed0b6d074 if interested, though. Government stuff should all be archived now, but it can sometimes be obnoxious to find the right thing.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Thu Jan 15, 2015 6:42 pm UTC

I am so courious about what that man would have said, if he were speaking openly.

Might he have said, "No, M'am; I do not have that document."
"It's Classified.That document is not open to public scrutiny."

No, M'am; I did not read that document."
"I can not answer questions about the contents of that document."

Is the Senate asking for a rumor of a document?
Maybe, they can't get their hands on it, because it does not exist.

That man could make something up, tell her, "Here it is.";
Then go on with his life. Nice life?

Is it a nice life?
Or; Does the Mantle of Responsibility weigh heavy on him?
Who shoulders the Responsibility with him?

Maybe, they can get together, write a little fiction and put this baby to bed.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby morriswalters » Thu Jan 15, 2015 9:53 pm UTC

Just for the record up til that exchange he had addressed her by her title in that hearing. When she interrupted him she was smiling. And it was in an exchange where she was trying to nail down when and where a report that the Congress had asked for was going to be ready.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Fri Jan 16, 2015 2:21 am UTC

Me, too.
Where is that report?
Is it dry boring reading?

With all that education, he should be able to write an interesting report.
I wonder what format he will use. Does the report cover Fifteen Years?

Have they leaked the Title of the report, yet?
He is held on retainer to produce reports.

He is well paid.
Where is that report?
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Fri Jan 16, 2015 4:19 pm UTC

addams wrote:Where is that report?
Is it dry boring reading?
The report about the Louisiana Coast? If the coast is dry, something is very wrong. Wet is the boring thing here.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Sat Jan 17, 2015 6:17 am UTC

Quizatzhaderac wrote:
addams wrote:Where is that report?
Is it dry boring reading?
The report about the Louisiana Coast? If the coast is dry, something is very wrong. Wet is the boring thing here.

Is that really what General Welch was testifying about?
Is he briefing the Senate on effects of the BP Oil spill?

That is not his usual specialty.
He should be able to step into the role.
He is a General, after all.

Has it been released?
I want to read the stupid thing.

The US Public, like me, get a little snotty.
When I read it, I'm going to have high expectations.

It will piss me off if it is not written well.
He got extra time to work on it.
It better be fucking Good.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Ormurinn » Sun Jan 18, 2015 3:38 pm UTC

Hang on - there are people who think the use of sir or ma'am is disrespectful?

Is this a quirk of American English? sir/ma'am sounds intensely respectful to me.

To my ears the Senator sounds as if she's being a little petty (after the manner of academics who ask to be called "Doctor" or "Professor" rather than sir/ma'am) but not disrespectful of the military or the general per se.

Sir/ma'am or "Rank" is respectful address in my reserve unit. "Skipper" or even "Boss" is accepted in casual settings.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Sun Jan 18, 2015 7:31 pm UTC

Well, if it's customary to refer to Senators as "Senator," then presumably it would be rude to not do that.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Sun Jan 18, 2015 11:51 pm UTC

Sporange does rhyme with orange, when I say it.

Why are we forming opinions about the way those people do their jobs?
Did that man ever turn in that Report?

Will he go to jail, if he misses the Due date?
That's the way that shit is supposed to work.

If he gave an order to one of his subordinates and that report was late or wrong;
His subordinate could be arrested. Weird shit, like that. Chain of Command.

Is he The Very Top?
Is there no one for him to answer to?

His equals?
The Joint Chiefs?

Who is in That Club these days?
Is RoughHead still the Navy guy?
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Jan 20, 2015 6:17 pm UTC

Ormurinn wrote:Hang on - there are people who think the use of sir or ma'am is disrespectful?

Is this a quirk of American English? sir/ma'am sounds intensely respectful to me.


It is not(unless, of course, it is being said sarcastically). They are used quite frequently, and the usage in the UK is essentially identical to that in America.

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Well, if it's customary to refer to Senators as "Senator," then presumably it would be rude to not do that.


Both are proper and often used. Especially in this context. Sir/Ma'am are generic titles of respect, and are often appropriate. English often has multiple acceptable words or terms that may be used. Calling her Senator would not have been wrong, but neither was calling her Ma'am. Correcting one valid term of address to another is generally seen as rude.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby mathmannix » Wed Jan 21, 2015 4:23 pm UTC

To me, it would be funny/interesting if he replied, "OK, but you're a female Senator, so I will now address you as 'Senatrix'." That would be funny. It's like Congressman/Congresswoman, except it's an archaic word, right?
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Wed Jan 21, 2015 5:31 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Both are proper and often used. Especially in this context.

What's your basis for saying that?
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed Jan 21, 2015 6:22 pm UTC

mathmannix wrote:To me, it would be funny/interesting if he replied, "OK, but you're a female Senator, so I will now address you as 'Senatrix'." That would be funny. It's like Congressman/Congresswoman, except it's an archaic word, right?


That would be one of those things that might be, I suppose, technically correct when viewed in a certain light, but in actual practice, would be wierd, and would not be customary/appropriate regardless. Amusing, perhaps, but likely unwise and it'd surely be seen as impolite.

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:Both are proper and often used. Especially in this context.

What's your basis for saying that?


Well, you could look at the use of "sir" in that same event that went without comment. Or you could hang out in DC and use both yourself. It'll go without notice. I *live* a stone's throw away from here, and I occasionally am involved in politics. I'm pretty familiar with normal usage of terms of address.

I mean, sure, you can look at protocol guides and come to the same conclusion, but actual usage of sir/ma'am is very normal, and actual use is really the ultimate benchmark for language.

What basis do you all have for saying otherwise?

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Azrael » Wed Jan 21, 2015 9:07 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:Both are proper and often used. Especially in this context.

What's your basis for saying that?


[appeal to personal expertise]

What basis do you all have for saying otherwise?

I'm going to shut that one down right here. That's not how burden of proof work. You're making a positive claim, and were asked to support it. Your support is "I sorta just know". Don't try to divert scrutiny from that lackluster backing by insinuating that TGB is out of line in asking for it.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Thu Jan 22, 2015 1:41 am UTC

mathmannix wrote:To me, it would be funny/interesting if he replied, "OK, but you're a female Senator, so I will now address you as 'Senatrix'." That would be funny. It's like Congressman/Congresswoman, except it's an archaic word, right?

Yes.
That would be funny.

It would only be funny if the General lost his mind and started Channeling Sheldon from The Big Bang Theroy.
He would explain the male and female personal pronouns then he would begin to explain The Project.

The Sheldon Character cannot keep a secret.
That would be entertaining in a General.

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