03/12/2014 04:32 pm ET Updated May 12, 2014

The S&M Experience

Do you remember the first time you heard the "S" (sir) word or the "M" (ma'am) word when someone was addressing you? In the timeline of maturity this event stands stark in many people's memories. The first time I got "ma'am-ed," I actually turned around to see who the person was talking to. It certainly could not have been me! I was a mere 30-something.

After doing some very scientific research -- I queried three of my brothers; two male business associates; four women friends; the man in my life; my hairstylist; and two complete strangers -- I can report that it appears that men and women perceive the "S&M experience" in quite different manners. Men seem to swell a bit with the "S" word and women would rather misbelieve the "M" word has been aimed their way at all.

My younger brother recalls that the first time he heard the "S" word was when he was togged out in a business suit at the age of about 29. The "sir" appellation pleased him mightily and helped to square his shoulders as he was walking into a business meeting. "Well, I must certainly look the part," he remembered thinking with an added swiffle of confidence.

The man in my life and my oldest brother said that they had both been "sir-ed" for so long that neither could remember the onset of this address mode. As both of these fine male specimens are well over 6 feet tall, I wonder if aerial design has something to do with the "S" word. Though, my eldest sibling did say that "boss" now seems to be replacing the somewhat more elegant "S" word. This is a sign of our cultural slant towards the more casual, I am sure.

The "M" word seems to have a much more powerful effect on the female of the species. My four female friends had some definite input on the subject. We as a sex are, for the most part, not at all pleased with being addressed as "ma'am." Speaking from the receiving end of this mode of hallooing, the "M" word implies fustiness and a definite lack of sex appeal and feminine wile.

We gals will complain about a "Hey, baby!" while secretly enjoying that we still have "it." But the mouthing of a "ma'am" our way causes an inward cringe and an immediate inventory. "When did I cross the line from cool to dowdy? Ouch!" This sentiment will quite often be followed by a covert checking of our reflections in a frozen-food case glass or a storefront window.

One of my business associates said that the first time he was "sir-ed," he thought the person was talking to his father. His father was nowhere in sight, but that did not dissuade him from this firm conviction. The two strangers I queried looked at me more than oddly when I asked them about their "S" or "M" experience. Either they could not remember the event or they did not speak English.

My hairstylist advised me of one venue where the "S&M" question falls into an entirely divergent framework. This distinction occurs in the "True" South, which is geographically located north of Ft. Lauderdale, south of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of the Mississippi River. Here, the use of the words "ma'am" and "sir" are so inbred as the proper form of address for anyone over the age of their majority, that it is the lack of this prescribed polite conversational prelude that flicks an eyebrow skyward.

I began this exercise thinking that the "S" word and the "M" word were possibly perceived by both males and females as uninvited evidence that they had arrived at the "mature" mark in their lives. But my "study" seems to indicate that this is not the case at all. Men hear the "S" word as their "due" and women hear the "M" word as they're "done."

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