Hey, You!

Melinda Huang, Staff Writer

Nowadays, it is considerably difficult to please people, especially strangers, with the proper pronouns because everyone seems to follow a different social guidebook; strikingly, even the daily mail prefers gendered honorifics attached to names! The U.S. Department of Transportation does not accept any John Doe for mailing purposes. In fact, if his age is not clear, then undeniably, “Master John Doe” should be written on the envelope. Unfortunately, in the current society, gender-neutral pronouns such as “Mx” are not prevalently used, and even the amicable “hey kid” earns a person scorn from the said child. The respected New York Times newspaper once explained its rule on pronouns which certainly clears up the picture: either use the title the interviewed person prefers or avoid pronouns altogether. If it means repeating “John Doe” twenty times, there is nothing anyone can do about it. Strangely enough, the CDC has an entire page of preferred terms for those of different races and disabilities, but there is hardly a standard rule for any general new acquaintances. The words “sir,” “miss,” and “ma’am,” were all once widely acknowledged in American English so much so that most people have yet to even realize their gradual descent into the public’s distaste. For the lack of a better description, they have become the moldy cheese in the pits of the fridge that people refuse to address.

The honorific, “sir,” is a much more widely-accepted term compared with its female counterparts; however, not everyone sees eye to eye on it. “Sir” is a shortened version of its predecessor “sire” with roots in the French word, “sieur.” Dating back to the 1200s, according to Spark Files, “sire” referred to a knight or someone of considerable social standing. Who does not desire to be treated as a knight? Nowadays, “sir” is a word associated with “old people.” According to CNN, people of younger generations tend to lean towards “dude” or “bro” instead of the formal “sir.” Whether the American language has devolved is up to debate, but nonetheless, “sir” is not as innocuous as it once had been.

To some, “ma’am” could be a rite of passage, but to a vast majority, “ma’am” suggests a woman is past her prime. In an article, CNN explains how “ma’am,” just like “sir,” also has French origins. The French word, “ma dame”(my lady), slowly evolved into “madam.” Americans wanted to be a bit more special than the British, so they adopted their own take: “ma’am.” Notably, ever since 2012, the French word “madame” refers to both unmarried and married women because “mademoiselle” was banned by the French government. Feminists argued that men of all ages are “sirs,” so women should not be distinguished by their marital statuses. Alas, America lags in their shadow because “miss” and “ma’am” is still haphazardly employed to the disappointment of numerous. Southerners are accustomed to the honorific “ma’am,” but for the rest of America, “ma’am,” New York Times notes how the courtesy term is frowned upon even more than “Have a nice day.” There is no hard age that a “miss” becomes a “ma’am,” but when it comes, it hits people hard. Unless the lady is an officer in the military who is accustomed to “ma’am,” the lady in question might not appreciate the title. People cannot help but deny that they might be old because they secretly do not want to admit that their joints are not what they used to be. 

Dear reader, a loss of words is still not a reason to fret! American English still has plenty enough courtesy terms as alternatives. Blogger, Kristen Hansen Brakeman, recommended the endearing title “M’Lady,” and Princeton Biologist, Bonnie Bassler, favored “Your Highness.” Logically, perhaps, even referring to a human as a “person” might be even more favorable. Medium.com reasoned that before people are women or women, they are “people.” On the other hand, throughout recent years, there has been a rise in gender-neutral language. For trans people, people often combine words with an “X” to act as nonbinary-exclusive language. In fact, numerous countries have already recognized honorifics such as “Mx” though they have yet to act on their promise. Primarily, the only country that uses the honorific on paperwork is the United Kingdom. Maybe, choosing a simpler route might be better: avoiding an honorific altogether. Instead of spending half a day pondering over which pronouns to use, “you” should just speak “your” mind and then move on with life because a word should not make or break “your” day.