PPFF #150: mate

It’s one of my pet peeves; addressing someone as ‘mate’ or being addressed as such rather.

I usually don’t hold back from letting the (ab)user of the term know about my displeasure from this lazy and thoughtless use of the term of address. “How are you, mate?” That, delivered with a glottalised ‘t’ at the end would be enough to make me wince and want to purposely induce vomit in their face.

Granted, that’s a truck-load of hate and anger that probably stems from something else not terribly right in my head, and an indiscriminate use of hyperbole but you get the picture.

Now, you may think of me as a crazy person. I’m not, but I see that this opinion doesn’t help propagate that idea. But let me try by breaking this down so that reasonable people can understand where I’m coming from.

I do think that word is appropriate but only in rare circumstances in that there are only a tiny fraction of anyone’s relations for which it can be properly used without causing some offense. We often conceptualise our relations and hierarchies between people (or sometimes intangible things) spatially; e.g. within an organisation, some people are above us and others below us or some jobs are below us etc. – just as some people e.g. brothers and sisters are close to us, strangers are thought to be distant.

Now, we wouldn’t usually call our friends ‘mates’ if they were close enough to be actual friends with whom we enjoy spending time, in which case you would use their name. So the use of the term would conceptually push away the person we’re addressing (if that person is a friend), creating tension at least momentarily – think of the bond between two friends as a piece of string; any movement in either direction whether push or pull would create tension. This is a bit of a risky social manoeuvre unless the two are so close that this usage would be instantly understood as a jocular term of address.

On the other hand, I find a stranger addressing me as ‘mate’ very presumptuous. Applying the same logic within the aforementioned concept of social spatiality, for the two strangers between whom no prior bond has been formed, the distance between them is artificially brought closer by the use of the term. Without proper permission being either requested or granted, as far as I’m concerned it is a case of forced entry or at the very least a socially unacceptable, illegitimate use of the word (extending the analogy, the string could snap).

I think the two categories of people on the relations-spectrum that would warrant the use of the term of address ‘mate’, are between very close friends in jocular usage, and acquaintances we meet on a regular basis with whom there’s some identified potential to form a bond toward friendship.

So, try it today. Say ‘hello mate!’ to the security guard you see every day but never bothered to talk to.

Or something like that.

Have a good Friday mates!