Don't call your mother "she"

When I was growing up in La República de Tejas, the stories included in our elementary school reading textbooks were often slightly mystifying to me as they were often set in New York or New Jersey or somewhere and talked about things that ordinary kids were supposed to identify with but had nothing to do with life as we knew it down there. References to some fat kid getting Italian ices in front of a brownstone, or whatever.

One thing I never could figure out later, though, was some dialogue between a kid and his father about the kid’s dog. They were having an argument and the kid said something in reference to his mother, like “she lets me take the dog in my room!” and the dad whirled around and bit his head off: "DON’T you call your mother “SHE!” This happened at least two or three times in the story.

So, in one of the myriad cultures of the Yankee states in the 1970s or earlier, was it ever considered egregiously disrespectful to refer to your mother by the feminine third person pronoun? What were you supposed to call her, then?

A small mystery from my yute.

Beats the heck out of me. I grew up in New Jersey in the 60s, and never heard of anything like this.
I did get Italian Ices, though. And my cousin lived for a time in a New York brownstone.

You were supposed to say “mom” or " mother" or whatever you called her to her face- “Mom lets me take the dog in my room”. If you wanted to be annoying you then started saying things like “Mom said I could use Mom’s hairdryer after Mom is done with it”

It was considered disrespectful. Whenever I used ‘she’, I got angrily told “Who’s ‘she’, the cats mother?” Which made even less sense to me. I still don’t understand what it means.

Mom grew up in north Bronx, we were raised in Mount Vernon, NY.

I got this in Southern Engand too. Also mystified.

Color me puzzled - I don’t think I’ve ever heard this.


Grew up in New Zealand.

That’s interesting. Did the same also apply to fathers (“Don’t call your father he!”)?

Heh, I remember getting the “Who’s she, the cat’s mother?” line. It never made sense to me either.

My mother grew up in Queens, FWIW.

I don’t know what this cat’s mother thing is, but yes, calling your mother “She” was disrespectful. Still is, as far as I know.

Agreed, this was considered disrespectful and insolent. I grew up in the 1970s, in western NY.

There seemed to be two levels of this, though. The “she lets me take the dog in my room” where the kid is obviously whining. Then there was a stronger reprimand, the “don’t call your mother ‘she’!” situation which was meant to convey the whole straighten up and fly right sentiment. Stop calling your mother she, stop whining, enough with the dog already.

But if you weren’t whining or complaining or otherwise being sullen or a smart alec, the problem was more lazy speech. I remember going to find my mother in garden to convey news such as “He wants to know what time we’re eating dinner” and it was obvious to me I was talking about my father, because who else would be asking, and I would get the resigned sigh from Mom, who would repeat it back, “you mean, ‘Dad wants to know what time we’re eating dinner’.” Depending on her energy level, sometimes she would answer and sometimes she would wait until I said it again using Dad instead of he.

San Diego. Never heard of the rule.

I grew up in the Bronx. I’ve certainly heard of this, not just for mothers but for any adult family member. I don’t recall the “cat’s mother” phrase specifically, but there were other sarcastic rejoinders to let you know it wasn’t right.

Yo’ mama, obviously.

Must be a New England thing. I grew up in the midwest and the south, and never heard of such a thing. And you better believe they are big on respecting your mama in the south.

I definitely heard of this too and I grew up in the South (mid / east Texas to be exact) circa the 70s. Don’t know if my mother ever did it to me specifically, but I can certainly see where she might. And overall, I think delphica nailed the reasoning.

Never heard of this; I grew up in the Midwest.

Same here, except my parents were from the South Bronx and I was raised in Jersey.

I don’t think it’s a regional thing. Surely the problem is that referring to one’s parent as “he” or “she” is too impersonal? Parents dislike it because “he” or “she” is how any old random person would refer to them, not their own children. It’s one step away from Bart Simpson addressing his dad as “Homer”.

I don’t know- my dad was about as strict as they get with this kind of stuff, and I’m pretty sure that if he knew about it, he woulda been all, “Who’s she, the cat’s mother?” all the way. And if it wasn’t a regional thing, I’m sure he would have known about. I think he made it his business to research things to bitch about.