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Old September 26 2012, 11:48 PM   #36
iguana_tonante's Avatar
Location: Italy, EU
Re: officers are called 'sir'

grabthars hammer wrote: View Post
I think some people are confusing the uses of "sir"; I don't claim to know how its used in other nations but in the US, "sir" or "ma'am" is simply a way to address an unfamiliar person, commonly used by service workers when addressing customers, in addition to its military use as a form of respect for commanding officers.
I, on the other hand, would say that some English speakers, through familiarity and usage, lost the perspective on the meaning of the words. Why do junior officers address senior officers as "Sir"? Because, until quite recently, only members of the aristocracy could become officers. They were literally "Sirs". This is also the reason why it was used to addressed unfamiliar people: it was better to address a commoner with "Sir" than the opposite. This doubles for service workers, where making customers feel good about themselves is half of the work.

Now, I have no issue with using "Sir" to address people, just putting it into historical perspective. Sure, it is nice to do so: but it doesn't hurt to know why is considered courteous to do it (and while we are at it, "courteous": another word related to good manners which ultimately derives from actual nobility).

Ok, this was more pedantic that I thought it would be.
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