"young lady"
February 25, 2014 2:34 PM   Subscribe

Is there any explanation for how the phrase "young lady," used in addressing an obviously older woman, became popular? I never hear it used in addressing girls anymore, but only as a lame attempt to be friendly to an older woman. It's as if the speaker is trying to make you feel better about the fact that you are not a young lady; it is so much nicer to hear the respectful yet affectionate Southern colloquialism "miss lady." Ditto for the phrase "graduate college': when and why did even respected news sources drop the "from" ("graduate from college")? Thanks for listening.
posted by mmiddle to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you sure this isn't confirmation bias, or a small regionalism? I rarely hear "young lady" used to address anyone, but when I do it's usually children -- I only hear the using it to address older women thing in fiction. I have never heard "miss lady" from anyone ever.

As for "graduate [from] college", a quick google news search shows 566 instances of "graduate college" and 790 instances of "graduate from college", so the "from" is used more often that it isn't. A google ngram search of the two phrases confirms that, though it only goes through 2008 and isn't news-specific.
posted by brainmouse at 2:41 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]

Both "graduated from college" and "graduated college" are correct. Whether "graduate" is treated as transitive or intransitive has shifted over the years. What a news source uses will depend on their house style guide.
posted by rtha at 2:45 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]

Regarding young lady, I am familiar with the construction the OP mentions, though I also hear it used for children. For kids, it has a "oh you're so precocious" kind of vibe. For adults, it is always beyond-middle-aged adults referring to elderly women, in my experience.
posted by papayaninja at 2:47 PM on February 25

I grew up in the south and have never heard anyone in serious world say "miss lady". The only times I've ever heard "miss lady" are between female friends when they say something like "see you later, miss lady!" like you'd say "see you later, miss thang" or "see you later, lady." It's just an affectionate thing.

I hear my 90 year old grandma get addressed as "young lady" generally by middle aged male folks in customer service and I think it's terribly patronizing and obnoxious, but my grandma doesn't seem to care too much.
posted by phunniemee at 2:50 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]

Long time ago Ham radio was mainly Morse code. Hams had a lot of standard acronyms they used to speed up their code, and two in particular are relevant here: all men were "OM" Old Man, and all women were "YL" Young Lady.

This was irrespective of their true ages.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:51 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]

I've heard people say the "young lady" to old ladies, usually with a sort of coy winky kind of tone but only rarely. That said, I don't hang out with a lot of old ladies or with people who adopt a coy winky kind of tone.

The graduate (from) college thing - either sounds fine to me.
posted by mskyle at 2:52 PM on February 25

At one point the correct usage was, "She was graduated from college."

From the American Heritage Dictionary:
The verb graduate has denoted the action of conferring an academic degree or diploma since at least 1421. Accordingly, the action of receiving a degree should be expressed in the passive, as in She was graduated from Yale in 1998. This use is still current, if old-fashioned, and is acceptable to 78 percent of the Usage Panel.

In general usage, however, it has largely yielded to the much more recent active pattern (first attested in 1807): She graduated from Yale in 1998. Eighty-nine percent of the Panel accepts this use. It has the advantage of ascribing the accomplishment to the student, rather than to the institution, which is usually appropriate in discussions of individual students. When the institution's responsibility is emphasized, however, the older pattern may still be recommended. A sentence such as The university graduated more computer science majors in 1997 than in the entire previous decade stresses the university's accomplishment, say, of its computer science program. On the other hand, the sentence More computer science majors graduated in 1997 than in the entire previous decade implies that the class of 1997 was in some way a remarkable group.

The Usage Panel feels quite differently about the use of graduate to mean “to receive a degree from,” as in She graduated Yale in 1998. Seventy-seven percent object to this usage.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:56 PM on February 25 [5 favorites]

Both "graduated from college" and "graduated college" are correct. Whether "graduate" is treated as transitive or intransitive has shifted over the years. What a news source uses will depend on their house style guide.

The thing is, when you say, "Squiggly graduated Burrow," you've turned "to graduate" into a transitive verb. By definition, the act of graduating is something a school does to a student, not something a student does to a school. Schools graduate students. You could say that Burrow graduated 600 students this year. However, if you say, “Squiggly graduated Burrow,” you're making Squiggly the subject and Burrow the object and saying that Squiggly did something to the college. It's possible Squiggly did many things to the college during his tenure there. He may have damaged the college, delighted the college, or desecrated the college--but he didn't graduate the college.
posted by mochapickle at 3:18 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]

> I only hear the using it to address older women thing in fiction

It's happened to me, and I'm in my forties.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:40 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]

It has also happened to me repeatedly (I'm in my early 40s and have noticeably greying hair), as well as to at least one of my colleagues. Upstate NY, for geographical reference purposes.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:43 PM on February 25

I'm 35 and just the other day overheard a (middle-aged, male) co-worker refer to me as "young lady." It didn't faze me so I think it may happen more than I even register.
posted by payoto at 3:49 PM on February 25

Are you sure this isn't confirmation bias, or a small regionalism? I rarely hear "young lady" used to address anyone, but when I do it's usually children -- I only hear the using it to address older women thing in fiction. I have never heard "miss lady" from anyone ever.

This. Also, I grew up in and have spent a lot of time in the South - I have never, ever heard the term "miss lady." It is not a common or standard phrase there.

Also nthing the comments that "graduated college" is perfectly fine and not worth hand-wringing.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:01 PM on February 25

The Miss Lady thing... I've never once heard it in the South (Tennessee) but I've heard plenty of folks respectfully refer to older ladies as Miss Judy or Miss Patsy, etc.
posted by mochapickle at 4:05 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]

I remember this being done by a street vendor in upstate New York (Albany) to women of any age who were ordering from him. I figured it way his default way of being playfully polite with half his customers.
posted by John Cohen at 4:12 PM on February 25

It isn't polite, it's condescending.

When it happens to me I say coldly " I'm X age".
posted by brujita at 4:29 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]

I have no idea how or when it started but I have had people call me young lady (I'm in my 40s). They are usually male smarmy salesman types who are trying too hard to be folksy.
posted by interplanetjanet at 4:46 PM on February 25 [7 favorites]

I've definitely overheard the "young lady" thing coming from waiters at chains like Ruby Tuesdays or TGIFridays in both the NW and New England. I lump it together with other jarringly over-familiar bits of behavioral flair (like sitting down at our table to take our order) that makes me avoid these places at all costs.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 5:04 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]

Calling an adult woman "young lady" is just a step above saying she's a "girl." Both are put-downs.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:24 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]

Someone called my 92-year-old grandfather "young man" today. I started to get mad, but then I realized she was already being punished by having to work in the eyeglasses department at Sears.
posted by theredpen at 6:43 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]

I am 34 and get called "young lady" on the regular by men who are older than me and in positions of ambiguous power. Think bus drivers. Wow do I ever not take it as playfully polite, although maybe it'd be nicer for everybody if I did. I've been called "miss lady" before as well, by a (woman) stranger on the street trying to get my attention. Not in the South, though she might have been from there.
posted by clavicle at 7:05 PM on February 25

Here in KY, the cleaning lady at our office used to call many of the women "miss lady". It seemed like it was intended to be a friendly way to address people whose names she forgot or didn't know, or sometimes was used even if she did know names.

(And like mochapickle, I have often heard Miss + Firstname used to address older women respectfully.)
posted by dilettante at 7:11 PM on February 25

From Texas and often hear women and girls of any age addressed as Young Lady, usually by a salesperson or waiter. It's meant, and I take it, as an affectionate, polite term similar to ma'am, but we talk that way down here.
posted by tamitang at 8:01 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]

I'm an old woman and every once in awhile someone calls me, "Young Lady." Am I offended? No. Does it ruin my day? No. Do I feel patronized? No.

The person is trying to be friendly and nice. Motivation is what matters here and, personally, I'm sick of people getting all bent out of shape when they don't think they've been addressed properly or respectfully enough by total strangers when, in fact, the motivation was respectful and pleasant. What a complete waste of energy it is to fret over such nonsense. It's not like I'm being called, "Old Bat," after all.

Just smile and be thankful they acknowledged your existence at all, let alone in a friendly, kindly manner. Every kind word is a good thing to hold onto.
posted by aryma at 11:40 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]

> Enh.

I'm sorry to see this marked as Best Answer; it's an absolutely standard bullshit rationalization for why The Usage I Grew Up With and Am Familiar With is so much more logical and right than That Other Thing These Damn Kids Are Saying. It's particularly ridiculous in this case because, as mbrubeck points out, there are still plenty of people around for whom your Usage I Grew Up With and Am Familiar With is their Other Thing These Damn Kids Are Saying. It's perfectly fine to prefer what you're familiar with; that's human nature. It's irrational to claim that it's somehow holy and right just because you like it. I beg you to reconsider your attitude and let go of your hostility to the new and/or different, and I would point out that it's an issue that doesn't only apply to language. (Also, it's not really kosher to combine two different questions in one AskMe post. Thanks for listening!)
posted by languagehat at 6:46 AM on February 26 [3 favorites]

OP, this link helps shed some light on how prescriptivists and descriptivists view these kinds of rules. Steven Pinker's excellent body of work can be a fascinating read if you're into this sort of thing -- especially The Language Instinct. A lot of the rules we use now were set centuries ago by men whose lives are very different from the lives we live now.

To clarify my point above, the link I posted presents a rationale of why adding the word from makes sense, based on the current definition of the verb graduate. I'm a prescriptivist at work and a descriptivist at home, so while I'm certainly appreciative of the descriptivist acceptance of dropping the from because that seems to be the modern use (and indeed, Websters offers both usages as acceptable), it might be helpful to understand the logic behind why it might be acceptable to drop the prepositional (from).

So, genuinely honest question: why should/would/could it be OK to drop the preposition?

It's not constructive in this type of forum to simply say one's position is wrong because it's bs, ridiculous, and irrational. A helpful answer about why a different usage may work might add some light instead of heat.
posted by mochapickle at 8:51 AM on February 26

The OP asked why news sites seemed to be not using the form the OP expects/is used to/was taught was correct. The answer is likely that it's because some combination of house style and AP say to use it the way OP thinks is weird. That's what makes it okay - for those organizations. Both are correct; OP can use whichever feels or sounds best to them in their own writing, assuming they don't have a house style they have to follow.
posted by rtha at 9:00 AM on February 26 [2 favorites]

re: "Young lady," I think it's a generational thing and thus you're not going to have much success getting it to stop. "Young man" grates on my nerves (sounds like I'm about to be scolded by a teacher), as does people I have never met before calling me "sweetie" or "hun" or "babe" or anything similarly saccharine. (People I do know well, know better, and only do that in jest.)

re: "graduate" versus "graduate from": It could be American English versus British (or some other dialect of) English. In this case I would guess "graduate" is the Am.E. version, as we 'Murricans tend to be lazy. My in-laws are from overseas. My ears STILL perk up at things they say like "he is in hospital" (which is correct in Br.E.) versus "he is in THE hospital" (which is correct in Am.E.). There are a few other examples of that kind of usage.
posted by tckma at 11:35 AM on February 26

Thanks, everyone, for comments. I am not ranting or trying to change things, just thinking that if I could understand why and how these usages came into being, then they would be less irritating to me. Better to air the irritation here, than to challenge or resent people who call me 'young lady' (it just seems like fashionable tactlessness - has nothing to do with what I grew up hearing). And I marked mochapickle's answer as a Best, because of his/her citing longstanding grammar rules - from now on when I hear 'graduated college,' I'll know there's no explanation that would make it less incorrect, and cheerfully continue to read the article.
posted by mmiddle at 11:49 AM on February 26

At the post office today a woman behind the counter called a customer, who had to be in her 80s, "young lady." So rude.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:15 PM on February 27

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