Penny: Ma'am? Ma'am?! I'm going to go bawl my eyes out, and then I'll be back to physically fight you.
The single thirty-something woman is addressed as "Ma'am" for the first time, as opposed to "Miss," and freaks out at the cruel reminder that she is now only a teenager emotionally and mentally.
Note: This may be a regional American usage. In the American South, being addressed as "ma'am" is an ageless sign of respect, merely the feminine form of "sir". In fact, the inverse is sometimes true there: "Miss" is reserved for young girls, and referring to an adult woman as such can be seen as very condescending or just plain rude. The trope itself occasionally plays off this. For example, a young woman from New York may be called Ma'am by a Southerner who only means it as a sign of respect.
This trope does not apply only to the English word "Ma'am", it applies to any honorific used mostly for adults. In many cultures, terms like "aunt" or "uncle" serve the same purpose. Thus, in anime you often see younger characters pull out the Hyperspace Mallet when called "Oba-san" or "Ojii-san."
Of course, sheepishly answering "Yes, ma'am" to a kind request is usually immune to this trope.
Males will occasionally have a similar reaction to "mister." replying "Mister Siht is my father." However, this often has less to do with age than with a desire to seem less formal (though of course these factors are related). note
Compare Don't Call Me "Sir", where a character objects to being called "sir" or "ma'am" due to the unwelcome sense of authority or social distance that the honorific implies.
- AKIRA: Male example: Kaneda calls one of the officers "Old man" when he presents Kei to him as he leaves from the interrogation. Needless to say, the officer doesn't take it so well.
- In Case Closed, Yukiko's always offended when her son Shinichi, for the sake of disguise, calls her "aunty" instead of "older sister".
- In A Centaur's Life, Midoriko, a young woman who married Himeno's mother's younger brother, apparently prefers that her teenage niece call her "nee-chan"("big sister") rather than "baa-chan"("aunt"), since Himeno calls her the latter before correcting herself. However, when Himeno has to correct herself a second time, Midoriko sighs and says she's getting used to it.
- In Chibi Maruko Chan, a variation plays in the chapter/episode when Maru-chan meets her sister's tutor. She firsts introduces herself by explaining how she got her nickname, to which the tutor calls her Maruko-san/Ms. Maruko. She's taken aback by it.
- Kirihara from Darker than Black gets one when Kiko sees the woman together with her
stalking targetcrush, Hei. Note that Hei and Kirihara are roughly the same age, while Kiko is five to ten years younger.Kiko: No way! I didn't know you liked middle-aged women!
- In the TV series of El-Hazard: The Magnificent World, Jinnai makes the mistake of addressing Miz Mishtal as "Obasan". This being her Berserk Button prompts her to quickly wash him out (literally) from her shrine.
- In Fire Emblem: Champion's Sword, Cecilia is visibly shocked when Al calls her "pretty auntie" while thanking her for her help. He gets promptly punished by Tiena and Gant for his rudeness.
- Downplayed in Food Wars! where Erina calls her aunt "obasan", but Leonora gets angry because she thought Erina said "obaasan" ("grandma").
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, when Ed and Al first meet Izumi, she is outraged that they call her "aunt" instead of "sister"- the Japanese word for "aunt" is commonly used to address older women whose name is unknown, while "sister" is used for younger women. In the English dub, Ed calls her "grandma".
- Male version: In the first episode of GaoGaiGar, Mamoru keeps calling Guy "Mister", eliciting the response "Don't call me Mister, I'm only 21!"note
- Male example in Honoka Lv Up. Honoka's uncle Ryuichi doesn't like being called "Uncle Ryuichi," or "Old man Ryuichi," and insists that his niece call him "Ryuichi-san" instead.
- In Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, Kaguya's cousin Maki mockingly refers to her as "Auntie" since (despite the two having been born on the same day) Kaguya is two generations above her. It evolves into more of an Insult of Endearment when they start getting along later in the series.
- Inverted in Kaiju Girl Caramelise. When high school age Kuroe Akaishi first transforms into Harugon, her date that night, Arata Minami, runs into Kuroe's mother Rinko, who is keeping both her relation to Kuroe and Harugon's true identity secret. Arata says goodbye to Rinko by calling her "onee-san" (literally "sister", and typically used for girls who are only slightly older than you), which leaves the latter visibly flattered.
- 5 years before the start of Listen to me, girls. I am your father!, during Yuuta's first meeting with Sora, she addresses him as Ojiichan (Uncle), much to Yuuta's chagrin, since the two of them were only 5 years apart and, at that time, Yuuta's still in middle school. After quickly taking a liking to Yuuta, however, she decides to call him "Oniichan" (Big Brother) instead. Years later, when they meet again, due to a bad start, Sora begins calling Yuuta Ojiichan again just to rile him up.
- In Love Hina anime, Keitaro Urashima calls his cousin Haruka "oba-san" and gets smacked each time he does so, with an admonition to call her "Haruka-san". Information external to the program indicates that Haruka was formally adopted by Hina-obaachan, and thus in a legal sense is technically Keitaro's aunt, though she is biologically his cousin. Note that the smacking doesn't occur in the manga; Haruka accepts and explains this to the other ladies, who eventually come to call her "Auntie" as well.
- In Magic Knight Rayearth, Umi refers to Alcyone as an Oba-san, which infuriates the sorceress.
- In Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, Eutas insists on being called "bro", rather than "Mister".
- In March Comes in Like a Lion, Akari receives one when Hinata calls her more practical approach in making a bento "too plain" and "something that an old lady would make." Of course, Akari takes it as an indirect implication that she is one herself, and the two sisters get into a minor spat over it.
- Kobayashi from Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid really doesn't like it when people refer to her as Kanna's mother (even though she's perfectly fine with playing the role), and gets really depressed when she remembers that some of her old classmates have children.
- My Senpai Is Annoying inverts this, with the main character, Igarashi Futaba, being extremely pleased when a young boy refers to her as ma'am, as she views it as someone acknowledging her as a grown woman. She's a bit sensitive about people not treating her like an adult (which she is, as she's in her twenties) or thinking she's a kid, which happens a lot due to her being the exact same size she was in primary school.
- In Naruto, Tsunade is visibly annoyed at Naruto calling her "Grandma Tsunade", though she eventually gives in and lets him do it. She is actually around 50 years old when they meet, but thanks to her medical jutsu appears much younger.
- In One Piece you have Doctor Kureha, who at the youthful age of 139 is far too young to be called "grandma".
- Interestingly played with. Sanji spends his experiences with her trying to find the proper term to call her, (at least in the subs) ranging from "miss" to "ma'am" to "hag" to "girl." Kureha continues to beat him senselessly until Sanji simply calls her a lady.
- In an episode of Pokémon: The Series, Misty makes the mistake of calling Jessie an "old hag". She immediately breathes fire in rage.
- In Sailor Moon R, the sailor senshis call Esmeraude oba-san at one point, which she takes offense to. To be fair to the senshis, Esmeraude freely insults the senshis as pettanko just seconds prior.
- Tenchi Muyo! / Tenchi Muyo! GXP
- Airi Masaki's Berserk Button is pressed whenever someone calls her "grandmother"/"obaa-san" — even though she is literally Tenchi's grandmother (and Yosho's wife). Even Tenchi himself, as much as Airi adores him, can't call her by this.
- In the OVA, Sasami asks Tenchi who the "oba-san" with him is. Ryoko... gently corrects her.
- Kotetsu from Tiger & Bunny is none too happy to be called "old man" by the rookie superhero he's been forced to partner up with. His displeasure is only compounded when he discovers that said rookie has decided the pejorative is to be his new name.
- Said rookie, Barnaby, finds himself on the receiving end of the trope in season 2. And by a rookie that Mirrors who he was before his Character Development, no less.
- Male example. In Yakitate!! Japan, both Kuroyanagi and Pierrot get offended when Azuma calls them "uncle" when they're only 22.
- In the original Japanese version of Zoids: New Century, Wild Eagle, the cocky alter-ego of mild-mannered teenager Jamie Hemeros, addresses his rival Pierce as oba-san, much to her annoyance. In the English dub, he calls her "little lady," which, while still patronizing, carries a somewhat different connotation.
- In an Action Comics issue by Geoff Johns, Cat Grant is already annoyed when the men at the Daily Planet are wowed by Supergirl's beauty, and gets more so when Supergirl calls her "Ma'am."
- A male example occurs in one issue of Forgotten Realms. Jasmine wants to get out of Saerloon in a hurry, so she tries to get passage aboard the Realms Master by buttering up its captain, the elderly wizard Dwalimar Omen. He proves receptive and tries to flirt with her, but when she offhandedly calls him "grandad", his mood sours immediately.
Omen: Grandad? Dear child, it is customary for passengers not to insult their captain.
- Happens to Sylvia in Minimum Wage (AKA Beg the Question).
- Variant in Spider-Man. Trying to locate a student's home, Peter asks for directions from a woman nearby, calling her "Ma'am." She proceeds to ignore the question and lectures him about how "Ma'am" is short for "Madam," and goes on from there. Peter eventually apologizes, restates his question without using "Ma'am," and gets the directions he was looking for. The policeman who wanders up next, however, is clearly about to get the same lecture when he calls her "Ma'am."
- An early issue has Liz Allen pointedly call Betty Brant "Miss Brant" when inviting Peter to a Spider-Man Fan Club party being held at her family's dinner club and Betty's inner thought reaction states that "when she calls me 'Miss Brant,' I feel a hundred years old!"
- Francine Peters in Strangers in Paradise. "I am 29 years old! I am not a ma'am!"
- In Brazilian comic Tina, the teenage protagonist was once very annoyed at being called "Aunt", when she was at most in her early 20s. She tries to relent once seeing "aunt" and "uncle" being thrown everywhere... only for an old lady to start beating Tina saying "I'm not your aunt!"
- In one Baby Blues comic, Darryl is shaken when Zoe calls him "Dad" instead of "Daddy". He rants that he's too young to be "Dad". Wanda responds that she's been "demoted" to "Ma".
- One For Better or for Worse comic had Ellie, in the same day, get called "Lady", "Madam", and "Missus", and wondering "Whatever happened to 'Young Lady'?"
- An Outland comic had Steve Dallas flip out on a guy for calling him "sir". He turns to Opus and says there's nothing worse than some young punk calling you "sir"...at which point two young women walk up, and guess what they call him?
- Zits: When a little kid calls Jeremy "Mister", he goes into shock and complains that nothing will ever be the same. His mother Connie responds:
I'm still smarting from my first "ma'aming".
- A.A. Pessimal
- In The Many Worlds Interpretation, Johanna is called ma'am by respectful Caltech students. She isn't sure if she likes it or not and it reminds her she's just turned thirty. She wonders how soon her own students in Ankh-Morpork will promote her to one.
- In another fic by the same author, Olga Romanoff, a woman who determinedly resisted promotion in the Air Watch but, via Vetinari's machinations, ends up commanding the nearest thing Ankh-Morpork has to an Air Force, leads her command into war. Olga, who has fond memories of having been an ordinary Air Policewoman with few special responsibilities, discovers as the Mildly Military Air Watch becomes a fully martial combat Air Force, that the pilots under her command default to calling her ma'am using the accepted military honorific. Olga reflects she is still only in her early twenties, but suddenly feels old.
- In the Alternate Tail Series, Pantherlily isn't fond of being called hold (not helped that he's almost 200 years old). When Asuka innocently calls him "Lily-jii" (since he's older than Fairy Tail's Master/father-figure/grandfather-figure) he almost falls into Heroic BSoD.
- Black Crayons series: Just like in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Charlotte Mearing does not like being called "ma'am". Mikaela Banes points out how nonsensical this is as Mearing is an unmarried woman.
Mearing: You are not a soldier. You are a messenger. You've always been a messenger.
Mikaela: Well, thanks for listening so well. After all, any important information about the Decepticons must be taken serious since it could be vital, and not immediately ignored because it was brought by someone who isn't in your chain of command. Have a nice night, ma'am.
Mearing: Don't call me 'ma'am.' I am…
Mikaela: Yes, you are a 'ma'am.' You're a woman, you're not married, so you're a 'ma'am.' Get used to it. (turns to leave with Sam)
Sam: (once he and Mikaela are out of earshot) That was so hot, 'Kaela. You can fight my battles anytime you like.
Mikaela: I'll remember that.
- Hermione's father in Don't Look Back in Anger:
Daniel Granger: Harry, call me Dan. This Mister Granger crap makes me feel old.
- In Do You Believe in Fairies?, Mira prefers her adult nephew Julius to refer to her by her name instead of "Auntie".
- Harry's New Home has Sirius being horrified when Harry calls him Mr. Black and sir when they first meet after Sirius was exonerated. Snape calls him out on it, pointing out that Harry was simply being polite because he didn't know him.
- A rare inversion in Kid Keitaro. At the beginning of the story, the 8-year-old Keitaro calls his aunt Haruka nee-san(Older sister), only for Haruka to give him a light Dope Slap and tell him to call her "Aunty".
- A variant in Little Ritsuka and her Loving Family where Ritsuka (here Shirou and Rin's daughter from Fate/stay night) calls 10-years-old Illyasviel from Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA Auntie since in Ritsuka's timeline, Illya is her father's older adoptive sister. Illya, understandably, is shocked to be called this.
- Limitless Potential: During an argument over which of the two is supposed to be the "older" sibling, X makes Roll angry when he suggests that she may be called an "old woman". She retaliates giving him the reploid equivalent of an Ear Ache.
- let's go out with a bang!: Junko reacts this way when called 'Ma'am', declaring that she's not forty, but nineteen... maybe. Spending so much time in VR simulations has done a real number on her aging.
- Near the end of One Year, after Yukiko starts calling Rise "-san" rather than "-chan," partly because Rise's almost an adult, Rise jokes that she'd rather not be called "ma'am" just yet since she's still younger than Yukiko. Yukiko then replies, "Duly noted, ma'am," and the two friends share a laugh.
- Our Own League series:
- In Teen Titans: Together for Tomorrow, Kara is aghast when Conner first calls her "Auntie". In line with this trope, it's more because she's (physically) only two years his senior than actually his first cousin once removed.
- Done preemptively in Teen Titans: Witch-Hunt; When Circe reveals Donna is the granddaughter of the Goddess Hecate, and therefore Circe's niece, the sorceress stresses that she wants Donna to think of her as a sister while the girl is still trying to wrap her head around this.
- Tsunade shoots Shizune a Death Glare when she teasingly refers to her as "grandma" while talking to her infant son in Son of the Sannin. The narration notes that if anyone else called her that she'd "shatter every bone in their bodies without mercy".
- In The Stark Truth after Harry calls Tony "sir" Tony asks him to check for gray hairs.
Tony: You see, it starts off with everyone calling you sir, then you start to get grey hairs, and then before you know it, you're walking around with your nose stuck up in the air, and a stick shoved up your ass. All of a sudden people expect you to act all grown up and be all bossy like. I just narrowly escaped the conference with my beautiful hair still black and greyless. I'm telling you, kid, it's a plague and I'm begging you to never call me that cursed word again.
- Turnabout Storm plays with this by making both the "ma'am" and the shock come from the same guy, Cruise Control, even when the receiver didn't mind it at all. He calls himself out for it very loudly.
Cruise: That's like saying she's old! Didn't mom tell you "NEVER ask a lady her age"!? That's just rude you bloody idiot!
- Gender flipped, with the Stock Phrase reply: Crush the Turtle of Finding Nemo. Of course, he's "150, dude, and still young!"
- A variant in Rugrats Go Wild!:
Angelica: HEY, LADY!
Debbie: Who's calling me a lady? I'm a teen!
- In Dodsworth, Fran, a middle-aged woman who is trying to hang on to her youth, is happy enough that her daughter has given birth — until her husband calls her a grandmother. She's horrified, and after that, she doesn't even want to tell anyone about the baby.
- Kelly, in Lake Placid, having been called "Ma'am" by various officials, finally snaps and tells them if they call her "Ma'am" one more time she'll sue, and in this day and age, she'll probably win. The officials roll their eyes, but do stop calling her "Ma'am".
- In Logan Lucky, the nurse in the prison infirmary gets offended when Joe calls her "ma'am":
Ma'am?! A minute ago I was "Miss"!
- Mermaids: Mrs. Flax seems deeply offended when the 26-year-old handyman she was flirting with called her "ma'am". This handyman would end up having a fling with Mrs. Flax's daughter Charlotte.
- A variant in Speed: near the beginning of the film Jack repeatedly addresses Annie as "ma'am", until she insists on being called by her first name.
- Charlotte Mearing in Transformers: Dark of the Moon hates being called "ma'am". Carly, being British, doesn't understand what is the big deal and simply points out that, since Mearing is a woman, "ma'am" is appropriate. Except, from her time at the British embassy to the US, Carly should know the social faux pas in the States.
- Wild Tales: The male equivalent happens in "Pasternak" with the music critic saying that he felt like he was in the fifth circle of Hell when the model addressed him as 'sir'. He blames it on his receding hairline making him look older than he is.
- Early in Aunt Dimity and the Duke, Emma is addressed as "ma'am" several times by a young man on staff at Bransley Manor, the first stop on her planned garden tour. She's making the trip to Cornwall alone, since her companion of fifteen years has just married a younger woman, leaving her a single and (self-described) frumpy forty-year-old woman.
It was the constantly reiterated "ma'am" that did it. He might as well call me "Granny," Emma thought.
- I've Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level:
- Azusa spends a few minutes experiencing Color Failure, and a few more expressing heavy denial, after hearing Falfa call her "mama" and clarify that she seriously means that Azusa is her and Shalsha's mother since she has no memory of bearing children—or even having romantic relationships—for two whole lives, and it makes her feel really old. It takes a while after learning both this and the fact they were "born" from her constant slime killing to accept her status as a mother.
- In Beelzebub's spinoff, Beelzebub reacts poorly to being called "ma'am".
Vania: "Mornin', ma'am!"
Beelzebub: "Vania, every time you say that to me, the hatred toward you within me grows. I hope you are prepared for the consequences..."
- In Turkish there's actually a poem about this phenomenon, though gender-inverted. Attributed to the (semi-legendary) 17th-century folk poet Karacaoglan, it's called "A Girl Has Called Me Uncle, Oh Woe Is Me" Turkish . Similar to the other languages listed below, in Turkish the words "uncle" and "aunt" may be used as an informal but respectful way of addressing people who are much older than the speaker. note The poem is about the speaker's (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) shock and horror at being called this way by a random girl of fifteen. There are romantic/sexual undertones to his dismay as well, as the Karacaoglan persona is supposed to be a ladies' man and a 15-year-old is supposed to be of marriageable age by 17th century standards.
- From the second Rain of the Ghosts:
"You're Miranda Guerrero?"
Claire Beachum winced; she was only twenty-eight and didn't particularly like being ma'amed. "Mrs. Beachum will be fine."
- Brazilian host Xuxa, back when she still only worked in kids' shows, once was clearly shocked at a boy saying he'd send a kiss to "you, ma'am." Once rediscovered by the internet, the clip reached Memetic Mutation.
- One episode of Absolutely Fabulous has Patsy repeatedly being referred to as Madame, and she responds indignantly with Madamoiselle each time.
- American Housewife: A guy who once called Katie ma'am makes her list of "worst people ever".
- On The Big Bang Theory episode "The Valentino Submergence", Leonard and Penny are waiting for a table at a restaurant on Valentine's Day. Penny tries to flirt with the Maître D', but when he calls her "Ma'am", she drags Leonard away in a huff.
- In the Broad City episode "Sliding Doors," Ilana calls Abbi "ma'am" shortly after their first meeting, which she finds offputting enough that they end up spending the day apart.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- Giles addresses Ms. Calendar; she breezily replies "Please, call me Jenny - Ms. Calendar's my father.". Though as she's a teacher, she's used to being called 'Miss Calendar', and would rather be on First-Name Basis with Giles since they're interested in each other.
- Also, mistaking Buffy for Dawn's mother is an easy way to freak Buffy out. Buffy is her Promoted to Parent sister.
- The season 8 comics have a different take on it.
Satsu: I'm not following your orders. Not this time. I'll see you on the battlefield. Ma'am.
Buffy: ...[beat panel] ...I can't believe I find it sexy when she calls me "ma'am"!
- Charmed had an episode about Paige being insulted by a student who called her Ma'am. And then the episode's plot involves an Overnight Age-Up, and her sisters find her as an old woman and...
"Well, now I'm a ma'am."
- In Woody's first episode on Cheers, he addresses Carla as "ma'am" on meeting her:
Carla: "Ma'am"? What's that supposed to mean?
Woody: I believe it's a term of respect.
Carla: No wonder it sounded so weird.
- One Running Gag in El Chavo del ocho involving Doña Cleotilde (aka la Bruja del 71), is that she doesn't like being addressed as "señora" and insists on being called "señorita". This carries a double meaning since in Spanish, the terms can refer to either age or marital status, and Doña Cleotilde insists on "señorita" because she's unmarried.
- CSI: Miami subverts this in a fun way. Since Florida police are reportedly required to address any female who looks like they could be at least thirteen as "Ma'am", we often get to see Horatio earnestly "Yes, Ma'am"-ing young girls.
- Doctor Who:
- "Planet of the Ood": Inverted when an Ood addresses companion Donna as "miss". She immediately snaps back, "Why'd you call me miss? Do I look single?" (Never mind that she is.)
- "The Woman Who Fell to Earth" has a decidedly different take on this trope than usual, thanks to the recent regeneration of the Twelfth Doctor to the Thirteenth:
Yaz: Hold on there, madam, I need you to do as I say. This could be a potential cri–
The Doctor: Why are you calling me "madam"?
Yaz: ...because you're a woman?
The Doctor: Am I? Does it suit me?
The Doctor: Oh yeah... I remember! Sorry. Half an hour ago, I was a white-haired Scotsman.
- The Thirteenth Doctor does it again in "Rosa", when she is addressed as "ma'am" by a police officer:
The Doctor: Ma'am. Still can't get used to that.
- In The Flash (2014) episode "Girls Night Out", as Amunet is curb-stomping Killer Frost, a patrol car drives up, and two police officers step out, asking Amunet if everything is alright, calling her "ma'am". She turns out, clearly annoyed at the interruption, and asks why they thought her outfit gave them the idea that she likes to be called "ma'am". Then she kills them.
- Full House:
- Subverted as Stephanie cites being called "ma'am" by a cashier as proof that she's old enough to have her ears pierced.
- Played straight in the episode "Come Fly with Me", when Stephanie complains about her summer having been boring. When it's pointed out that she went to summer camp, she retorts that it was just day camp; "I was the oldest kid there. The other kids called me 'Ma'am'."
- Penny in Happy Endings, as seen in the page quote. Happens a few other times, though not to that extreme.
- In an episode of Herman's Head Heddy, a twentysomething woman who Really Gets Around, plans to seduce a fourteen-year-old boy, reasoning that he is at his sexual peak. She is put off from this by his calling her "Ma'am".
- Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (yes, there was a TV show, and it was far better than it had any right to be): Diane is sold on a spa treatment when a man (actually working with the saleswoman) knocks into her and addresses her as "miss," until he sees her properly and calls her "ma'am." This causes Diane to become completely obsessed with remaining young and beautiful, becoming the Monster of the Week, which was pretty par the course for that show.
- In the iCarly (2021) pilot episode "iStart Over", Carly said she panic-bought the anti-aging products she's advertising on the new iCarly because a guy at the 7-11 called her "ma'am".
- Played and kind of parodied in the Colombian Soap Opera Las Juanas, when the main heroine, in front of an older woman she hasn't introduced yet, and not knowing what to call her, decides to call her "Doña" (the Spanish equivalent of "Ma'am") and the older lady becomes enraged. The heroine thinks that she has offended her in the spirit of this trope, but then the lady shouts something in the vein of "How did you know my name, and why do you talk to me with such disrespect?". Turns out that the lady is really named Doña, so the correct way to address her is Doña Doña. And the joke is brought up several times more.
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show had an episode titled "Today I am a Ma'am" where the thirty-year-old Mary is despondent over no longer being part of the station's youth demographic.
- NCIS: Ziva has demonstrated on multiple occasions that she dislikes being called ma'am. Even dirtbag is preferable, though it will still get your ass laid out.
- Once Upon a Time has a gag in an episode where Belle, who is dating Henry's grandfather, points out through clenched teeth that Henry can just call her Belle as opposed to grandma.
- Player has the Korean equivalent: Ha-ri takes offense when A-ryeong calls him "ahjussi" (term of respect for an older man).
- In the Selfie episode "Nugget of Wisdom", Freddy implies that he's the younger, hipper, gummier version of Henry (who is a little older than junior employees like Freddy and Eliza), as a child vitamin Henry worked on is about to be phased out.
Freddy: But sometimes old trees gotta get cut down so new ones can grow. Right, Father Time?
Henry: Who's Father Time? I'm Father Time?
- It did not only this but a Gender Flip with J.D. being called "sir".
- Played straight by Jordan, to the point where she gets so many Botox injections that she can barely talk.
- The Single Guy: After being addressed by the hated word, Janeane gets a tattoo to prove she's still young and cool.
- In the pilot episode of Star Trek: Voyager, Harry Kim, spit-shined, fresh-faced ensign, meets Captain Janeway for the first time:
Janeway: Come in. Gentlemen, welcome aboard Voyager.
Kim: Thank you, sir.
Janeway: Mister Kim, at ease before you sprain something. Ensign, despite Starfleet protocol, I don't like being addressed as "sir".
Kim: I'm sorry... ma'am?
Janeway: Ma'am is acceptable in a crunch, but I prefer "Captain".
- Of course, Tom calls her "ma'am" at every opportunity for the rest of the seven years.
- And Q calls her either "Madame Capitaine" or "Kathy" depending on his mood.
- Veronica Mars is astonished when a young mugger she has just apprehended calls her "lady". Although her big dog may have had something to do with it. Oddly enough, series star Kristen Bell seemed to have the opposite problem in Real Life due to her petite, youthful appearance. She relates some of her problems with getting carded during a 2004 appearance on The Late Late Show, which leads to guest host Sara Rue describing the regular version of the trope happening to her.
- A by-proxy example in The West Wing - Josh is amused when Charlie addresses Zoe - the President's 'teenage' daughter - as "ma'am". A straight example sees Helen Santos (First Lady-elect) nonplussed to receive her first "ma'am" from Donna.
- In one episode of Will & Grace, Grace tells a client about how horrible her life is becoming, including an unfortunate incident that day when she was buying wrinkle cream at Bloomingdales. It’s all for show; she’s trying to get the client to sign a better deal out of embarrassment, and it works.
Grace: ...and this Jennifer-Love-Sarah-Michelle-Felicity-looking thing bumps into me and says, "Excuse me... ma'am"!
- Wings: When Joe dates a nineteen-year-old, Helen and Alex become so insecure about their age that when a delivery boy addresses Helen as "Ma'am", they both berate him, demanding to be called "babe", "kitten", or "cupcake".
Helen: So if you know what's good for you, we're going to walk away and you better look at our butts the whole time.
- In the Ability episode "V.D.P. Experience", Jess is wondering if spending her 27th birthday at a music festival was a good idea (having already been chatted up by an 18-year-old who "likes older women") when a security guard approaches her.
Guard: Excuse me, madam, I think you dropped your cardigan.
Jess: Madam? Madam? Right, that's it, we need to get out of this bloody creche of a festival, now. And it's not a cardigan, it's a kaftan!
- In Bayonetta 2, the title character is called ma'am in her first meeting with Loki. Cue an annoyed "Do I look like a ma'am to you!?".
- Bravely Default has a male variant with Ringabel, who is rendered nearly speechless when a pair of girls address him as "mister". In the original Japanese, he was called "Ojiichan", which means either grandpa or uncle.
- Male example: In Dragon Quest V, two children call you and your companion "Mister", which in party chat is very distressing to Prince Harry who doesn't think he should yet qualify.
- Fate/Grand Order:
- In the crossover event with Fate/EXTRA CCC, corrupt nun Kiara invites you to join her sex cult. You can decline because she's evil, or because you're not into older women.
Kiara: Wha...! Of all the things you could say, you state something so groundless?!
- Revisited in the Summer 2020 event when Swimsuit Kiara is revealed and you mistake her for Sesshouin Lily's mother.
- In Prisma Illya crossover, you can call Medb "Magical College Student Medb" instead of magical girl like the other antagonist (especially egregious because one of the enemies is Helena, who is significantly older than anyone). She, being who she is, gets offended when she notices this.
- The Caster of Okeanos aka the witch Circe usually has to deal with being Older Than She Looks, but when her niece Medea and her nephew Asterios/the Minotaur call her "auntie" she immediately tells them to not say that out in public. The latter does it because he honestly doesn't see what she's worried about, the former does know but just likes getting a rise out of her.
- The fandom also humorously attributes this behavior to Scathach, by mentioning her age and pretending to get Killed Mid-Sentence. Became an Ascended Meme with the recent update for Cu Chulainn (Caster), as his new line for Scathach is teasing her for her age and ending with a panicked "I didn't mean it, please don't kick that spear-"
- In the crossover event with Fate/EXTRA CCC, corrupt nun Kiara invites you to join her sex cult. You can decline because she's evil, or because you're not into older women.
- In Fire Emblem Fates, when Elise meets her older brother Leo's son, Forrest, the two get along well, but Elise eventually insists that Forrest not call her "Aunt Elise"- considering how the Deeprealms, where Forrest was raised, work, Forrest may actually be older than Elise.
- Genshin Impact's Faruzan is an inversion. Referring to her as "Madam" is recommended to Akademiya students seeking her help, as she reacts favorably to being called so. Conversely, expressing surprise at her youthful appearance will earn you a fierce lecture.
- In Illusion of Gaia, when Will is getting hauled off by the King's soldiers for not giving him the Crystal Ring (which happens regardless of what you choose), he calls out to the queen "Ma'am! Save me!!", prompting the queen to say "Did you say Ma'am??!" It's unclear whether she's complaining about the reference to her age or Will not calling her "Your Majesty," though.
- Palutena is not happy when Phosphora calls her this in Kid Icarus: Uprising. Pit then pipes in and states, while they're at it, that he doesn't mind being called "sir".
- In The King of Fighters Maximum Impact, Rock Howard accidentally pisses off Mai Shiranui by doing this. He was trying to be respectful, and even familial; since Rock is Happily Adopted by Terry Bogard and Mai is engaged to Terry's brother Andy, she is technically his aunt. Obviously though, Mai didn't see it that way.
- In Love & Pies: Amelia's Great Aunt Esme hates being called a great aunt, and she'll sic her pet turtle Randy on anyone who addresses her as such.
- Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire have this occur when Wally apologizes for bumping into the admins of the opposing version's enemy team at the Battle Resort, addressing them as "sir" and "ma'am" in the process. Team Aqua's Shelly and Team Magma's Courtney are both incensed at this, while Tabitha of the latter provides a male example. Aqua Admin Matt is the only one who isn't fazed.
- A Male variant in Shadowverse — Marlone Median is clearly shocked when Luna refers to him as an "old man".
- Super Robot Wars T: Sagiri Sakurai really does not like being called an 'old woman' by a 10-year-old boy, which caused her to have a meltdown mentioning that she got co-workers with children in elementary school-age while she hasn't even married. She's fine being called 'ma'am' by Rami, though, as it was meant to show senior-junior working relationship (She's called 'senpai' in Japanese rather than 'oba-san').
- Mamoru Amani gets some Laser-Guided Karma in Super Robot Wars 30 when a mission has him meeting Yuuta Tomonaga. Yuuta is every bit was sweet and innocent as Mamoru was when he was that age(see the Anime section). History repeats.
- Ace Attorney's Mia Fey gets distressed when called Madame Fey in her first case. The witness, a younger woman, takes note of this and uses it to annoy her.
Mia Fey: I'm only 24. That's not old!
- In Cafe Enchante, Rindo is aware that he is in his forties but he still does not like when the non-human café patrons, some who have already lived for hundreds of years, refer to him as "old man" or "old".
- In Collar × Malice, Yanagi, who is 28 years old, doesn't like being called the "father" of the detective agency, even if he is the most mature and responsible out of the group. In his route, he is dismayed when a little girl refers to him as "Uncle", though he understands that at her age, she probably sees anyone in their twenties as old.
- In Katawa Shoujo, Sae Saionji, the art curator, doesn't like being called "Mrs. Saionji", despite having once been married because it makes her sound old and instead requests to be addressed by her first name.
- Zeta Vincent of Narbonic once said that she was "much more freaked out by being called 'ma'am'" than by the rogue mad-scientific experiments rampaging through the room at the time.
- The Order of the Stick: Haley takes more exception from Samantha calling her "old woman" than from the lightning bolt she took in the face.
Haley: I'm not old! I'm 24! That's not old! Twenty! Four!
- Used in Shortpacked!, when Robin is elected to Congress after a sugar rush induced blackout:
Robin: I didn't know I was old enough to be in Congress!
Assistant: You have to be 25, ma'am.
Robin: Please don't call me "ma'am".
- Shown in this Not Always Right story. Notably, the woman in question has this reaction to both "ma'am" and "miss".
- Brazilian web series UTC, centering around two people reading "jokes" until someone laughs, once had a contestant losing because she didn't react well to being called "ma'am" and cracked up ("ma'am your ass"...).
- On Daria, a minor character named Robert has the odd habit of calling girls his own age "ma'am," something that Daria at least does not seem to appreciate.
- While the exact age of Sheryl Goodspeed from Final Space isn't known, she can safely be assumed to be in her late 50s/early 60s at the youngest. She's still a hypercompetent badass, but when Little Cato playfully calls her "Grandma S." on the grounds that, because Gary adopted him, Sheryl is now technically his grandmother by adoption, she's obviously annoyed at being called "Grandma".
- In a Halloween episode of Kim Possible, Kim argues that she and Ron are too old to go trick-or-treating, as "last year, some kid called [her] ma'am".
- King of the Hill:
- Miz Liz (who recently caught her husband cheating with a younger woman) is having lunch with Hank when a waiter calls her "ma'am" as he leaves to get their food. She comments "I can remember—barely—when waiters didn't call me 'ma'am,'" then breaks down crying, which leaves Hank feeling very awkward.
- In another episode Hank's driver's license is misprinted to say that he's "Female." While he's trying to get it fixed the DMV worker calls him "ma'am" as if actually confused about his gender. Hank blows a gasket.
- In another episode Buck Strickland (Miz Liz's lech of a husband) takes one of his many mistresses out for drinks. The outing winds up depressing him once the bartender asks what his granddaughter would like to drink.
- When Mickey Mouse got flustered and nervous, he would sometimes call someone "Ma'am" - Peg Leg Pete didn't take it well.
- On Milo Murphy's Law, a kid from Milo's school says "Thanks, ma'am" when Savannah saves him from falling in a hole.
Savannah: Ma'am? (uses a "Guess My Age" app on her phone, which registers "Ma'am—39")
Zack: Yeah, Mr. From the Comic Shop, sir.
- Rare Male Example with Neal, whom everyone always refers to as "Neal from the comic shop." Note that all of these characters are teenagers.
Neal: Heh, okay, I'm only two years older than you.
Zack: Whatever you say, old man.
- In Young Justice (2010), Helga Jace mentions that this happened during a job interview, though she seems more amused than upset.
Helga: I'm only thirty-four! Is that when you become a "ma'am?"
Jefferson: Oh, am I not touching that one.
Helga: Kids today.
- In Tangled: The Series, "Keeper of the Spire", Cassandra is called "mom" and she angrily retorts she is only four years older than Rapunzel. Also a Development Gag as Cassandra was based on an old design of Rapunzel's mother.
- A Finnish equivalent of this is to be called täti by a child or a parent talking to their child. (Literally "aunt", but in this context, it is used to refer to women a child is not acquainted with). Younger women are usually just called "girl." This affects a much younger age group than "ma'am", however, as täti is usually used to refer to women one does not classify as children. This means a four-year-old might call thirteen-year-olds this, while their parents will usually reserve the term for those who look at least twenty. It's still a bit of a shock to some to be called täti by an adult talking to their child.
- The same applies to setä (literally "uncle").
- Brazilian Portuguese has a similar thing with children\early teens calling older people "uncle" ("tio") or "aunt" ("tia"), which might be bothersome to those who deem themselves too young to have nephews.
- A version of this is used in Tagalog: A woman only a few years older than you would be called ate (with their name if you know them), which translates to "big sister." Similarly, a slightly-older man would be called kuya (big brother). You in turn would be called anak (gender-neutral for child). Even if the person is considerably older, you would still call them kuya or ate unless they look visibly old enough to be your parent — at which you'd call them nanay or tatay (Mother or Father, respectively) or tito or tita (uncle or aunt). There seems to be considerably less stigma compared to the American counterparts, though. The English terms "sir" and "ma'am" themselves are considered safe and neutral default address in most situations.
- In China, those a few years older than you will be called "jie" (older sister) or "ge" (older brother) unless names are used. Those considered old enough to be your parents will be called "ah yi" (aunt) or "shu shu" (uncle), and those old enough to be your grandparents are called "nai nai" (grandmother) or "ye ye" (grandfather).
- Which is more or less where oba-san, obaa-san, and onee-san would fit on this list.
- It's the same in the Korean language with ahjumma (aunt) and ahjusshi (uncle) being used for older adults.
- Mix with Separated by a Common Language: 小姐 is the equivalent of Ms in Taiwan, used to refer to prostitutes in China, and can be either depending on context in Hong Kong. 女士 is always polite, but it is nebulous in whether it is the equivalent of "Ms", "Madam", or "Lady". 太太 on the other hand is closer to "Mrs" and definitely implies an older woman.
- Truth in Television: In June 2009, a Brigadier General speaking before the United States Senate called Senator Barbara Boxer "ma'am", to which Boxer took offense and insisted he call her "Senator." Critics quickly pointed out that "Ma'am" is the correct address for a woman higher up the chain of command, and said that Boxer was needlessly overreacting. This despite the fact that the Military etiquette guidelines clearly state that Senators are to be addressed as such. Indeed, it specifically adds the line, "When the senator is a woman: Use Senator," likely for just such a scenario. Also, never mind the fact that although Congress is responsible for handing out commissions and a candidate for any level of general generally has to get Senate approval before getting his/her star, Senators aren't really in the chain of command: that goes exclusively up through the Executive Branch (from the Departments of the Navy/Army/Air Force and the Unified Combatant Commanders to the Secretary of Defense and then the President).
- Newly-minted Marines fresh out of boot camp, having just spent the last three months being conditioned to call every civilian female "ma'am", regardless of age, will invariably invoke this trope on females FAR sooner than they would typically expect, at least until they can shake some of the more ridiculous aspects of recruit life.
- The Russian equivalent is zhenschina (lit. woman) instead of devushka (lit. girl). Though it's polite to call middle-aged women "devushka", when younger, thirty years old women are called "zhenschina" it's twice the shock.
- In Bulgarian it's appropriate to address women as "Miss" when their apparent age is below 30, and as "Mrs." when above. Upon mistake, the woman may correct the speaker but usually doesn't act shocked. Boys around coming of age experience a version of this trope when people start using formal "you" when addressing them, or outright call them "sir".
- This problem wouldn't arise in Scotland (particularly in the West) as women of any age are likely to be addressed as "Hen".
- In French, the title for married women is "madame" and the one for unmarried women and girls is "mademoiselle." As in English, this distinction can give rise to socially awkward situations. In Québec, official usage now dictates using "madame" for all women except young girls (and, amusingly, "women who insist on being called mademoiselle").
- Same in German. To be called "Fräulein" would probably be considered sexist or patronizing by most young women.
- There is a further Ma'am shock for Americans who come across the British pronunciation of "Ma'am." It sounds almost exactly like the way an American would say, "Mom," whereas Americans would use a flat-sounding "Maam." This leads to amusement/merriment/horror when the American girl in question thinks that you think she's even older than the standard Ma'am shock would imply.
- Additionally, the word "madam" (the long form of "ma'am" typically used by British service staff) can be even more shocking, since it's not only much more formal than what Americans are used to but also slang for Miss Kitty.
- To avoid this kind of situation, working class in Mexico don't call married women "señora" nor don't call unmarried women and girls "señorita", they use the shortened form "seño" for both.
- Similarly in English, when addressing a female, "Ms." (pronounced with more of a "z" sound than an "s") has become the neutral middle ground between "Mrs." (Married) and "Miss" (Single). One generally starts with "Ms." and waits for the woman in question to point you in the right direction.
- In Korean, the equivilant is "ajuma". As with other examples listed here, be careful when using this one.
- Some stores have a rule that everyone who looks as though they might be under legal age is asked for ID when buying alcohol or tobacco. So the first time you're not asked for your ID, it's a bit of a jolt to realize that nobody thinks you look like you might be under 21!
- A lesser shock is when small children stop referring to one as a boy/girl/kid/etc and start referring to one as a man/woman/grown-up/etc.
- Averted in modern Hebrew, as not only are Israelis generally too informal to use either term of address in most situations, but the equivalent ‘miss’ (‘almatíHebrew lit. ‘my maiden’) went out of style long ago, and the equivalent of ‘ma’am’ or ‘lady’ (gevéret,Hebrew lit. ‘lady’, or the more formal gvirtí Hebrew ‘my lady’note ) is more commonly heard. (Of course, since this is Israel, which has universal conscription, ‘soldier’ might be more common...)
- May come up from colloquialisms: for instance, in some parts of the United States, "ma'am" is just considered a polite way of referring to a woman you've just met, functionally equivalent to "miss"; in other areas, "ma'am" specifically refers to a female superior or someone who is notably older. So you may just be trying to be polite, but accidentally imply they seem far older than they are!