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In theory, the word “ma’am” is a courtesy extended to women. But many women say it makes them cringe. In a recent poll by Survey Monkey, only two participants preferred the term “ma’am.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer once told a brigadier general to refer to her as “senator” rather than “ma’am,” saying, “I worked so hard to get that title, so I’d appreciate it, yes, thank you.”

A term that was once considered polite is now having the opposite effect on women—it makes them feel “overripe.” The best course of action? When in doubt, skip the courtesy term altogether. 

Tip: Read more advice in our free report, 14 Tips on Business Etiquette.

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