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Of ‘sir’, ‘madam’ and curses of ‘Jiminy Christmas’

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POSTED March 3, 2010 2:04 a.m.
Not too long ago someone asked me why I had started a conversation with a younger gentleman who had stopped by the office with a press release by referring to him as “sir.”

They voiced the concern that using “sir or “madam” was a sign of being impersonal and that I myself didn’t particularly like to be called sir.

Fair enough question especially since the subject of civility now seems to rate the full attention of the California Legislature that is tackling the subject of cussing by government decree while the Golden State is having a major financial meltdown.

For me, it is a sign of respect and not trying to be distant although some who know me well enough understand I would be more at home as far as manners go, in the Victorian Age than I would the New Age. I will still open doors for ladies regardless of their age despite the fact I occasionally will get the full wrath of some who view such a gesture as condescending. (For the record, I also will hold the door for men a lot of time. Call it being courteous.)

If it is someone in uniform – female or male – I will refer to them by “madam” or “sir” even if they are 34 years my junior. It is out of respect for the unselfish act that they are doing serving America.

As for the use of “sir” or “madam” when someone is not familiar and isn’t in uniform, it just seems to be the polite thing to do.

It seems contrary to my preference for casual dress – a tie hasn’t been wrapped around my neck now for going on 24 years save four occasions while wearing a tuxedo. The formal way of addressing others on occasion is something that is ingrained into me despite being a fifth-generation Californian.

Yes, I know. Californians are supposed to be laid back. My grandmother – three generations removed from New England – ran a ranch as a single parent with eight kids to raise when her husband walked out on her in the middle of the Great Depression. She also worked in a factory during World War II and built her own home by herself when she moved into town.

She was a stickler for treating others with respect by removing your hat in the presence of a lady or when you enter a store or restaurant. She never dressed to the nines.  It was plain and simple – the proverbial Republican cloth coat dresser, if you will, when she wasn’t dressed for work. I imagine she’d be horrified at what passes today as proper “casual dress” in public as the act of women wearing hair curlers in public in the early 1960s before she passed away appalled her.

Having said that, I confess I’d be a big disappointment to her today due to my tendency to cuss on occasion.

Grandmother viewed it as the height of uncivilized behavior and this comes from a woman who worked with ranch hands. She always made it clear you could let people know you were displeased, angry or upset without sounding like a sailor on a two-day drunk. And you certainly knew when you provoked those emotions in grandmother and she never had to use a foul word to do so.

My brothers cursed and I didn’t like it one bit growing up. I honestly didn’t start cursing until I started hanging around other people who did. In my case, it was the newsroom at the first daily I worked for in Roseville. That doesn’t excuse it one iota.

Of course, it isn’t the cuss word that is necessarily wrong but the curse.

Dale Pence, a basketball coach at Lincoln High who eventually became principal, would blurt out “Jiminy Christmas” whenever he was frustrated with an official’s call. He used it once too often in one game and a referee blew a technical foul on him for cursing.

To show how far we’ve gone backward today in decorum a coach would probably get a pat on the back if he uttered “Jiminy Christmas” instead of a few choice words that some do today.

It’s time to try and drop the cursing habit.

It won’t be easy. I might just force myself to think of Mr. Pence and at least substitute “Jiminy Christmas” for whatever foul word I might think or feel like uttering.

There are more eloquent and colorful ways to catch people’s attention and to transmit anger or disappointment instead of using gutter language.

I doubt, however, that you’ll see your run-of-the-mill shock jocks and rappers utilize words like “Jiminy Christmas” anytime soon. They’d much rather wallow in the verbs meltdown of civilized behavior.
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