Thursday, January 05, 2017

Boys and Girls, Men and Women Part II

Grim's comment under Boys and Girls, Men and Women  prompted this extension.  Most of the Wymans went to school in the South*.  A college does not give one the full cultural experience, but we learned a few things, which gave us a basis for further learning from who we knew and what we read later. We learned that The South is many places and cultures (which you would never know from country music, where they are trying to sell records to as wide a range as possible, and so lump Jacksonville with Rockford, IL.) There is commonality, but not as advertised. Southern politeness and formality is recognised but not always understood.  Grim commented on the OP about calling even female children ma'am. I wonder how far that extends geographically.  Such usages, even when they have an undercurrent of humor, are never unserious.  My son will give directions to his daughters "Ladies!  It is time to get ready for bed!"  When a coach or scout leader addresses the boys as gentlemen, there is likely something of importance to be said.  They are being told to put on the role of gentlemen, at least for a moment. Calling boys "sir" is not mere mockery.  It is a reminder.

The reverse happens when people speak about those of higher status as an Old Boys' Network, or at my hospital, the Old Girls' Network of nurses who were trained at our school.  It is not a compliment, but something of an accusation that they are still functioning as children by favoring the comrades of their youth.  Related: there is occasional discussion that it is unreasonable that black people can call each other niggah, or gay men say faggot, while it is a grave insult when outsiders do it.  Sorry, that's how group language works everywhere, not just in America, not just in English. You can call your own group The Girls, and you can extend that privilege to your husband, though he'd better not call them that if you don't.  Even your children might hesitate to say it in your hearing.

We used to refer to soldiers and sailors at war as "our boys."  That was a common usage during both world wars.  It was a common referent in the Civil War even amongst the men themselves.  That tended to become less common between wars, and now I don't think it is common at all.  Perhaps it persists in the south.  I wonder if it fell out of favor with the coming of the volunteer army, or with more women joining the armed services? ("Our boys and girls" just doesn't work in a war context. You have to switch to "young men and young women.") In that usage I think it reflects our affection, and our recognition of their vulnerability as much as it acknowledges their youth.

Other subtleties of the usage would be welcome.

*For the record, two at William and Mary, two at Asbury, one at North Greenville, and one last who went to technical college in Houston. Plus I suspect some outsider knowledge is gained at Camp Lejeune.


Grim said...

They are being told to put on the role of gentlemen, at least for a moment. Calling boys "sir" is not mere mockery. It is a reminder.

I think there are two aspects to this. One is intended to teach them how to behave as gentlemen. The other, which is less obvious, is to teach them to expect to command the respect of gentlemen insofar as they do put on the role. If the boys will come to order and listen respectfully to what is being said, they will not be yelled at or otherwise treated as children. They'll be treated as young athletes.

That second aspect is what I think is really behind the young-girls-as-'ma'am' expression that I obviously learned from my mother. It's not just about reminding her granddaughter to be a lady (which is pointless, for now, as the girl was just born in August). It's about laying a foundation to help her understand not just how to be a lady, but what kind of treatment a lady has a right to demand. If you're a six year old girl and you are treated respectfully by a man like me, it says something about the respect due to you even though you are quite young and physically small and without much to offer in return (as yet).

So in addition to teaching, "It's appropriate to behave this way in these circumstances," it's also about teaching, "If anyone treats you disrespectfully without you having misbehaved, no matter who they are, they're the ones who are wrong."

jaed said...

There's a scene in a science-fiction book by CJ Cherryh, in which a young girl announces her wish to train for the captaincy of a merchant starship. But she doesn't want to learn all the other ship's jobs and spend time in each department (which the training requires)—she just wants the captaincy. Her mother explains to her, pointedly, that if she wants this, she must learn it what the people under her command will be doing:

You study everything, Megan had said, when she had complained about learning galley maintenance; the Helm course fits you for everything. So if you fail, you drop into whatever other track you’re passing. You think Helm’s just sitting in that chair: it’s trade and routings; law; navigation and scan and com and armaments; it’s jack and jill of all trades, Allie, ma’am, and doing all the scut before you hand it out, and you can always quit, Allie, ma’am.

This is a teenager; her mother isn't calling her "ma'am" out of respect. She's calling her the title she will, eventually, be called if she achieves her ambition. It's a reminder that these are grown-up matters and she's expected to behave and make decisions about her training like an adult—like a ship's captain, in fact. (Some sarcasm there too, of course, but I think the reminder is the main point.)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Good examples how usages are often complicated, straddling competing meanings on purpose.

As an aside, I am betting there are many of these in the scriptures that we simply miss. A friend who was an MK in Lebanon tells me that the discussion of Abraham about buying the field for Sarah's burial (Genesis 23) sounds to him a lot like the bargaining in the marketplace. "No, no, I am giving it to you! But since you force me to tell you what it is worth, it is worth 400 shekels." They are not making a single transaction - they could, but then there would be no definite friendship afterward - but setting up a continuing relationship. I hadn't seen it that way before.

Texan99 said...

Do you consider any part of Illinois the South? :-)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I said Rockford just because it is outside of Chicago. I should have said Mt Vernon or Marion. Joel Garreau, in his Nine Nations of North America puts SE Illinois and SE Missouri in Dixie. I haven't been there myself, but people from there tell me that the rest of the state tends to hate Chicago as the last Rust Belt city, connected eastward, while they are from Midwest and South. When I picked up Kyle from Forth Leonard Wood in Missouri, it seemed like a Dixie-Midwest mix to me. But by the time we got to Kansas City it was entirely midwest.

Google nine nations as an image. You'll like the maps. I loved the book immediately because he got it that SW Connecticut is not part of New England.

Texan99 said...

SW Conn. is one of the boroughs of Manhattan, right?

When I was little, my cousins in NC and SC clearly thought I lived in a John Wayne movie. They also thought John Wayne movies touched in some way on the experience of living in any part of Texas in any century.

So I'm only provisionally part of the South, myself. Texas is a special case, in this as in so many other ways.

And SW Conn. is startlingly beautiful, by the way.

Texan99 said...

I just looked at the map. They consider Houston, where I grew up, part of Dixie. Where I live now, near Corpus Christi, is Mexamerica. In between, almost to the coast, is the tail end of Breadbasket, which makes some sense, as it's largely agricultural through there, with lots of hay, sorgum, soya beans, rice, and cattle being raised.

My mother's family were from Breadbasket, my father's and stepmother's from Dixie.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

My second son is in Spring, and will now be working at First Methodist UMC in downtown Houston. The borders of three regions seem to come together there, and as with all border areas, culture can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Sam L. said...

Many years ago, I stopped at a restaurant in Champain, IL. The waitress sounded Southern to me. She said she'd lived there all her life. The U of Missouri is in Boone County, halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City, known as "The Heart Of Little Dixie".

james said...

The accent gets stronger near Cairo. And then less strong when you go further south.

Donna B. said...

There are multiple southern accents, some of which I have never understood. For example, my maternal grandfather's. I always knew he was saying something sweet and kind (or at least chose to interpret it that way), but I didn't understand his western Tennessee accent. An uncle spoke just like him. Now that I'm older I wish I'd made more of an effort to understand both of them.

Thirty years ago, I spent some extended time in Lexington KY. I understood everything the locals were saying, but they sounded like "Yankees" to me. Or like New Orleans Cajuns. Both sound to me like the Brooklyn accent I hear in movies or on TV. 'Taint Southern to my way of hearing!

I grew up in western Colorado and northern New Mexico. Though I left for the ArkLaTex 40+ years ago, locals still note that my accent is different and ask where I'm from. I'm a fair mimic and enlist my most Southern Belle drawl when I ask them whatever do they mean by that. Another advantage is the fact that I speak (limited) Spanish without the drawl, enlisting surprise by an entirely different group of people.

BUT, back to the original topic -- as a teenager I had to make an effort to use "ma'am" and "sir" appropriately in this area. In Colorado, they were used sarcastically and did not denote respect.

RichardJohnson said...

And SW Conn. is startlingly beautiful, by the way.

Depends on your perspective. One's opinion can vary by taking the CT Turnpike- UGLY- or the Merritt Parkway- beautiful. I was born and raised in the opposite part of the state, where my nearest neighbor was a quarter mile away, so my opinion of SW Conn, a.k.a. Fairfield County, is rather negative. Fairfield County being a hotbed of Yankees fans doesn't help my opinion.

The suburban density where I live in TX has a landscape which to me is blaah compared to the forests, meadows, & SWAMPS of my hometown in CT. I got a different opinion when my cousin from NYC visited me in TX. She called it beautiful. Well, it is a lot greener than NYC.

Like most states, Hillary got a lower percentage of the vote in CT than Obama did in 2012. There were some towns in CT that bucked the trend where Hillary got a higher percentage of the vote than Obama in 2012. Wealthy towns, all of them. The two towns in CT where Hillary had the greatest increase compared to Obama were New Caanan and Darien in Fairfield County- which not coincidentally have the highest per capita incomes in the state. President Goldman Sachs did well by them, so they decided better the devil they knew.

If you run a correlation with per capita income versus increase in vote for Hillary compared to Obama, you get a correlation coefficient of 0.8, which is very good agreement. The top ten towns where Hillary's % of the vote was greater than Obama's in 2012, averaged 12% greater than Obama, and per capita income of $78,000. The bottom ten town in Hillary versus Obama averaged 17% less for Hillary compared to Obama, with average per capita income of $29,000. My dislike of Fairfield County is once again justified. It isn't prejudice when you have facts behind your opinion.

The three nations intersecting in Texas corresponds with my describing Texas as a meeting ground. Moses Austin, the father of Stephen F. Austin, was from CT.

Texan99 said...

I love the low spreading live oaks and meandering marsh waterways where I live now, and wouldn't trade them for those stunning picturesque rocky hillsides and tall elegant trees of Connecticut, but I'm still amazed every time I see the latter.

GLT said...

One of my brothers coached football at North Greenville.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

My 3rd son, oldest Romanian, named John Wyman was there Aug 2005- Dec 2006. They had a talented WR who went to the NFL shortly after, I recall.