Why Do Southerners Say Ma’am & Sir?

Podcast episode here.

Article written by guest writer & anonymous author, Mind Your Manners

Yes ma’am.
Yes sir.
No ma’am.
No sir.

Children in the South are still taught these to this very day though it appears that it is starting to wane. It is a sign of respect for the elder with whom you are speaking.


Because age is indicative of one being more:

  • Knowledgable
  • Experienced
  • Educated
  • Versed in life

Even if that is not the case (because we all know that age does not always equal maturity), it is imperative to address anyone older than you in this way. Using ma’am and sir are deemed traditionally Southern in the United States but may originally stem from 18th century England. It is an extension of formal politeness and a sign of good manners.

Article written by guest writer & anonymous author, Mind Your Manners


Kira’s 2 Cents

I’ll never forget the first time someone scolded me for calling them ma’am. I was so taken aback. This particular woman was originally from New Jersey, and she was greatly offended that I had said yes ma’am to her. Most people in the South expect and appreciate being called ma’am/sir. I was recently giving a social media marketing talk to a room full of adults. It was a Q&A type of situation. I must had said yes/no sir/ma’am multiple times while addressing their questions because after the talk, a couple from the audience came up to me and asked me where I was from. “I’m from here, Savannah!” I said. They told me they had assumed I was from a rural area because they just didn’t hear young people address others with such respect nowadays. They were surprised and comforted by it. I, of course, felt that they had just paid me a great compliment by thanking me for my use of manners, but I was also saddened that they rarely heard ma’am and sir from people my age. I am currently 28 years old, and my grandmother would have snatched me up if I had forgotten to use my manners. She expected to hear yes/no ma’am from me starting from an early age and would correct me if I had forgotten them til the day she died (when I was 26). I will most definitely teach my children the use of ma’am and sir, and I hope that they will continue on with this tradition of showing respect and reverence to others, whether or not the recipients are “deserving” of it.

P.S. If you’d like to dive deeper into the use of “sir” & “ma’am,” The Common Vision has a great article here.

3 thoughts on “Why Do Southerners Say Ma’am & Sir?

  1. I don’t use the terms myself, however I learned a tip that women almost always prefer being addressed as “Miss” instead of “Ma’am” because it makes them feel younger! I’ve watched my husband do it, and it always gets a smile.

  2. My dad would smack me if I did not address all adults with yes sir, no sir, or yes ma’am, no ma’am. My dad requires that us kids use good manners all the time. I am 22 years old and I have to answer my parents with respect. Once in a while I forget to say sir or ma’am and my parents always make me correct myself. If you are used to saying yes sir and no sir it really is not a big deal. My younger brother is 18 and he gets in trouble for not using his sirs and ma’am’s way more than I do.

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