AskDefine | Define sir

Dictionary Definition

sir

Noun

1 term of address for a man
2 a title used before the name of knight or baronet

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Etymology

Via from senior, older or elder, from senex, old

Pronunciation

Noun

  1. A man of a higher rank or position.
  2. An address to a military superior.
  3. An address to any male, especially if his name or proper address is unknown.
    Excuse me, sir, could you tell me where the nearest bookstore is?

Translations

A man of a higher rank or position
An address to a military superior
An address to any male, especially if his name or proper address is unknown
  • Kurdish:
Translations to be categorized

Derived terms

Verb

  1. to address somebody using sir
    Please don't sir me!

Bosnian

Etymology

Noun

  1. cheese

Croatian

Etymology

Noun

  1. cheese

Declension

Serbian

Etymology

Noun

  1. cheese

Cyrillic spelling

Slovene

Etymology

Noun

  1. cheese

Declension

Welsh

Noun

  1. county

Extensive Definition

Sir is an honorific used as a title (see Knight) and in several other modern contexts. It was once used (without the person's name) as a courtesy title among equals, but in common usage it is now usually reserved for one of superior rank or status, such as an educator or commanding officer, or in age (especially by a minor); as a form of address from a merchant to a customer; in formal correspondence (Dear Sir, Right Reverend Sir); or to a stranger (Sir, you've dropped your hat).
The equivalent for a woman when used as a term of address is "madam" or "ma'am".

Origin

Sir derives from the Middle French honorific title sire (messire gave 'mylord'), from the Old French sieur (itself a contraction of Seigneur meaning 'lord'), from the Latin adjective senior (elder), which yielded titles of respect in many European languages. The form sir entered English in 1297, as title of honor of a knight or baronet, being a variant of sire, which was already used in English since c.1205 as a title placed before a name and denoting knighthood, and to address the (male) Sovereign since c.1225, with additional general senses of "father, male parent" is from c.1250 and "important elderly man" from 1362.

Formal styling

In formal protocol Sir is the correct styling for a knight or a baronet (the UK nobiliary rank just below all Peers of the realm), used with (one of) the knight's given name(s) or full name, but not with the surname alone ("Sir James Paul McCartney", "Sir Paul McCartney", or "Sir Paul", but never "Sir McCartney"). The equivalent for a woman is Dame (for one who holds the title in her own right). The wife of a knight or baronet is however styled "Lady [Surname]" (e.g. "Lady McCartney", but never "Lady Heather McCartney", which is reserved for the daughter of a duke, marquess or earl).
With regard to British knighthood, a person who is not a citizen of a Commonwealth realm who receives an honorary knighthood is entitled to use any postnominal letters associated with the knighthood, but not the title "Sir". Dual nationals holding a Commonwealth citizenship that recognise the British monarch as head of state are entitled to use the styling, although common usage varies from country to country: for instance, dual Bahamian-American citizen Sidney Poitier, knighted in 1974, is often styled "Sir Sidney Poitier", particularly in connection with his official ambassadorial duties, although he himself rarely employs the title.

Use in disciplined services

The common use of Sir instead of the rank specific address for a senior officer in a military, police or other hierarchical organisation is rather specific to English. In most languages, no such general address is considered respectful, or the two are combined, as in German Herr followed by the rank. In French the possessive pronoun mon precedes the rank, not unlike My Lord or Mein Führer.
"Sir", on its own, is sometimes used by schoolchildren to address a male teacher. It is common in British tabloid newspaper slang as a shorthand for 'schoolteacher': Sir's sex shame. Usage of "sir" commonly appears in schools in portions of the Southern United States.
When addressing a (male only, unlike in many fictional works) superior (e.g. Officer or Warrant Officer, but--most of the time--not a non-commissioned officer, in the military), "sir" is used to replace his specific rank. However, a United States Marine recruit addresses both commissioned and non-commissioned officers as "sir", especially drill instructors. Enlisted members of the United States Air Force always address superior non-commissioned officers--including Military Training Instructors--as "sir" and, in certain situations, even non-NCOs may be addressed as "sir", most often Senior Airmen (E-4s) serving as training leaders or instructors at technical schools.
Possibly the shortness of the word helps explain another, in a sense compensating, idiomatic but non-official practice in American English: emphatically saying Sir both in front and behind an obedient response in clear voice to the senior, especially during drill, e.g., "Sir, yes, sir!"
Often, youths playing American Football at the secondary school level and sometimes at the university level address their coaches as "sir." "Sir" is typically used when the players address the coach as a team, e.g., "Yes, sir!"
In both the United States Military and British Armed Forces addressing an NCO as "Sir" is incorrect, and the almost universal response to such an address is "Don't call me sir, I work for a living". In the British Army, however, an NCO is referred to as "sir" when an officer is on parade and warrant officers are addressed as "Sir".
In the Royal Canadian Mounted Police only commissioned officers are addressed as "sir", NCOs and constables are addressed by their rank. British police officers of the rank of Inspector or above are formally addressed as "Sir", but are more commonly addressed as "Boss", "Gaffer" or "Guv" (short for "governor") depending on the force (although more senior officers are invariably addressed as "Sir").

Miscellaneous

  • Until the 17th century it was also a title of priests (the related word monsignor, from French monseigneur is still used for Catholic prelates). In Icelandic, the cognate word séra is used exclusively to address a priest, together with his first name: a priest called Jón Jónsson will be addressed as séra Jón and referred to as presturinn séra Jón Jónsson ("the priest, séra Jón Jónsson").
  • Various persons in authority, e.g. District Judges in the United Kingdom, are also addressed as "sir".
  • Sirrah was a 16th century derivative that implied the inferiority of the addressee.
  • The informal forms sirree and siree are merely devised for emphasis in speech, mainly after Yes or No.
  • Not to be confused with the now exclusively monarchical (i.e. royal) Sire, even though this has the same etymological root.

References

sir in Belarusian: Сэр
sir in Czech: Sir
sir in German: Sir / Dame
sir in Estonian: Sir
sir in Spanish: Sir
sir in Indonesian: Sir
sir in Hebrew: סר
sir in Dutch: Sir (titel)
sir in Norwegian: Sir
sir in Polish: Sir
sir in Portuguese: Sir
sir in Russian: Сэр
sir in Slovenian: Sir (naziv)
sir in Serbian: Сер (титула)
sir in Finnish: Sir
sir in Swedish: Sir
sir in Tamil: சர்
sir in Ukrainian: Сер
sir in Chinese: 爵士
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