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The moment you call anybody "sir" you are bowing to them.

Using the word 'sir' when talking to someone you're not familiar with is generally intended simply as a gesture of respect. It's not some sort of submissive term.

My occupation puts me in positions of authority over strangers from time to time. I pretty much always default to '"sir" and "m'am" in those cases.

Maybe it is cultural thing - nobody here calls a stranger sir.

"You" would seem to be more appropriate.

"You" is pretty rude in America (or at least the North East).

To add a little more context, I work in emergency services (fire/EMS), so if I'm addressing someone, it's typically to give them instruction to keep them safe ("Sir, I need you to ______"). I also use 'sir' before I know someone's name ("Excuse me sir, could I get your name?").

The word can certainly have different connotations depending on the relationship. A service employee would generally refer to a customer/employer as "sir," and I suppose there's an air of subservience there.

On reflection, I suppose you could call a firefighter a "service employee," and civilians on an emergency scene are in many ways "customers," so my use of the term might just be an extension of that relationship...

It's an American thing -- I've found it's very common in the US to address random strangers as "sir", and it's used among people on the same social level.

In other English-speaking countries I've been to, "sir" is a genuine sign of subservience.

Where's "here"?

Personally the situation where I'm most likely to call someone sir is where I'm giving them a forceful verbal put down. "With due respect sir that sort of language is unacceptable here." or what have you.

I'm in the UK so also when addressing a Knight of the realm in a formal setting.


UK also here - I don't think I've ever used the word "sir" outside of a humorous context.

Or when you want something from a stranger. "Excuse me sir, have you got any change..."

(And similarly with the leafletting, cashiering, tour-guiding and door-holding occupations I've had in the past. You want people to feel important, and you're in a subservient position, so you elevate them verbally. Basically, when you're a Baldrick.)

It's certainly less common than it used to be. My father -- born in 1927 -- typically uses sir and ma'am to people he doesn't know, unless he's being introduced, regardless of the relative social positions. I was taught to do the same in private school in the 80s (though only explicitly to "my elders"), but dropped the habit for the most part, and these days I'm uncomfortable and a bit startled when someone "sirs" me.

Where is 'here.' In Virginia where I'm from, calling someone 'you' can be rude.

If only I had known that in Jesuit high school; it would have made all those detentions I served easier to take if I had known the dean was actually cowtowing to me every time he cited me for an untucked shirt.

I prefer "officer", which is just as respectful, and reminds them that they are an officer of the law -- not my boss.

Can't speak for everywhere, but from a British point of view, it's probably the opposite. Personally I basically only use Sir when I'm telling a stranger off. I guess it depends a lot on the tone of voice used. :-)

Which is another American use of sir in that, when someone cuts you off in line, rather than let loose, a firm but loud “Sir” tends to let them know you’re angry and that perhaps they did something wrong. Of course, if “Sir” ends up failing, then comes more interesting dialog. :-)

Yeah, this is a problem with English. In French you can call anyone m'sieur or in Russian tovarisch and it's fine, but in English we only have sir or dude/mate/whatever and nothing in between.

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