One summer evening when I was seven years old, I walked into the kitchen and asked my mother – who was bending over an open, hot oven – if she was my mistress. Mom responded with a back hand across my face. Shocking, I know…my mom had a wicked backhand. Oh, the mistress comment. I can blame it on the older, pretty girl next door. Being raised south of the Mason-Dixon Line I knew the three important words referring to females: Miss, Mrs., and Ma’am. Thus, to a seven-year old, the term ‘mistress’ seemed to fit nicely into my polite Southern vocabulary. I learned two very important lessons that day: don’t stand too close to Mom when she is bending over a hot oven and a colorful vocabulary can be dangerous. Okay, a third, don’t trust the pretty girl next door.
Thirty odd years later I was at the Wagon Wheel Diner, a local lunch spot in East Point, Georgia, when in response to the waitress asking if I wanted more ice tea I automatically replied, “No thank you, Ma’am.” I received a very indignant “I’m too young to be a May’uum!” Maybe it was my age in relation to hers; me being at least ten years older. Not sure. I just figured she was probably from the mid-West, where “May’uum” may very well refer to her mother’s older sister.
Sure I received a lot of ribbing from my co-workers who found the waitress’s sharp comment funny at my expense. Yet, both of those moments in my Southern linguistic travels have a lasting impression on how I approach language and the art of writing.
“Proper Misspelling” copyright Steven S. Walsky,all rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (to include electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without written permission of the author.