There’s an older gentleman at my job (he’s probably in his 60s) who likes to call a few of my employees “young ladies.” 

He thinks that he is being complimentary.

They hate it.

The women are in their 20s, professional, educated, capable, etc., and they see his “young lady” as being patronizing, belittling, and even creepy (yep, that’s the word they used).  He thinks that in addressing them as “young ladies” that he is showing them the utmost respect and is treating them as he would his mother, sister, or daughter.

He kept doing it, and my employees kept hating it, so they finally asked me to do something about it and to talk to him.  You can imagine how awkward that conversation was.

I’m just going to have to paraphrase this one because the conversation was meandering, disjointed, and emotional (on his part).  I gently and respectfully told him that my employees would greatly appreciate it if he addressed them by their names instead of by “young lady.”  He got very mad.  Incensed, actually.  The conversation quickly degraded into a rant on how men can’t win when it comes to women and how a man can’t even talk to a woman anymore without being made to feel like he is offending her in some way.  Not surprisingly, he had several other examples of female employees who had “misunderstood” a comment of his, and his ten-minute long diatribe ended with him saying that he was no longer going to talk to my employees (no, wait, that was women in general) at all.

I basically said, “Ok” and walked away.

The thing is that I felt bad for the guy.  He didn’t mean to be creepy, but he hadn’t learned that language has changed, and what was considered ok ten, twenty, thirty years ago is not ok now.  That is one of the wonderful things about language–it is organic, fluid, transmutable.  African Americans are no longer “coloreds.”  Friends are no longer “cats.”  Women are no longer “chickadees.”  And if we don’t adapt to new language, we risk being becoming archaic, unintelligible, and yes, even offensive.


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