Friday, November 02, 2007

Ways of addressing people

The HOBD (House of Bishops and Deputies) listserv recently had a discussion among several women (clergy and laity) about the use of "honey", "sweetheart", "love", and other such means of addressing people - a habit that is prevalent in the South. This type of behavior is offensive to some people. "Dear" is another term often used. One person proposed that "Ma'am" was an acceptable alternative.

I'm guilty of calling people many different names of this genre. "Lady", "Man", "Kid", "Dearie", and a host of others. Of course, one of my friends calls me "Batgirl", but that's not necessarily complimentary as we once had a discussion about Bat Cave, NC, and the appropriateness of one another's possible residence there. However, I also use a person's name in the same context - if I know that person's name.

The argument was that society once used derogatory terms for certain people - the N word was mentioned as well as other ethnic slurs. And, I'm sure that specific talk show hosts are guilty of using words to describe groups of people that are not complimentary and do slander those mentioned. But, we're not talking about ethnic slurs; we're talking about forms of address for servers in restaurants to use in addressing their patrons. They contend that such usage is degrading and non-inclusive.

I live in a part of the country that is a mix of wealthy people from "The North" and a clique of "old Southern money" as well as the commonly called "rednecks" and ordinary folk of the South. Using such forms of address as "girls" or "boys" for women and men is a friendly gesture, but I admit that overuse by one person can become irritating. One waiter who continued to call our lunch group "girls" was definitely out of order. But, you can usually tell by the tone of voice. And, I do agree that "ma'am" or "sir" is often the better choice.

As many of you know, I use all sorts of forms of address in my comments on other blogs. They range from "sucker" to "sweet lady" or "friend". These are my friends, and I do the same in person. I know your name. I know your approximate age. I know your status in the world.

Having a sales clerk call me "dear" is as generic to me as "ma'am" or "sir", and down here they don't discriminate between men and women in the "dear" category. "Honey" is another term that some people use as a term of friendliness. To me, this is not the same as using "he" as a generic pronoun - a usage that I detest and protest.

Perhaps I am wrong, and I will ponder (translate - rethink) this sort of address, but I just don't see the harm in using friendly terms of address instead of being formal.
I'm willing to consider the error of my ways; so, all you folks who read my blog, bring it on, dearies.


Judy Vaughan-Sterling said...

I have a lot of relatives who live in the south, and have spent some time there. I never assume that any form of address is a put-down. In fact, when I hand over my subway ticket in the morning, the woman behind the counter, who has seen me coming and going for years, always says, "Have a great day, baby!" and I really LOVE that! It brightens up the morning. There's too little affection in public places!

June Butler said...

I use "my dear" and "sweetie" sometimes. I hope I'm not offending anyone. Sometimes trying to get it right about how to address people is like navigating a minefield.

I think of the kindly, 60ish black man in the Whole Foods Market, who calls me "Baby". At one time that would have been cause for lynching.

Oh, and I use "love", too, sometimes.

Janine said...

Hi darlin'--
Sometime in my middle 30s, I developed my grandma's habit of calling people Sweetie, Honey, Dearie, Love, etc. (It may be genetic.) I also began addressing young men as "son" and young women as "precious." If asked to get formal, I will; but most people like, and return, endearments, at least in the rural area where I live.

I am a feminist, but if someone calls me a "girl" and doesn't seem to mean anything derogatory, I won't take offense. There are too many real offenses out there to worry about whether "girl" is an insult unless context makes it inescapable.

I still remember having store clerks in England call me "ducks," which I absolutely loved.

Endearments beat curses every time.

Anonymous said...

I will use those terms with my friends. As you say, I know their status in the world, they know I know it, so there's nothing attaching to "darling," except that i think you are, or "love," except that you really are one.

I find it overly familiar and rude when others take such liberties. It's a way of not seeing people. When everybody is "dear," everybody is "honey," then nobody can be themselves.

That's my two cents, Daahling.


shallotpeel said...

"I can't remember anyone's names. How do you think the 'darling' thing got started?" - Zsa Zsa Gabor (1917-)