There is a guy who calls me ‘Sir’ every time we meet and for some reason it gives me the ‘creeps.’ We have been introduced and he knows my name, but it is all down to the tone of the ‘Sir’.
There is no other word that I know of which can give off so many different vibes by its use. Now, don’t get me wrong: There are occasional times when I appreciate being addressed as ‘Sir’. Read on please …
We Irish aren’t great users of the ‘Sir’ title. Maybe this is because we feel ‘we’re all the same’ – or could this aversion to the word be a throw-back to the days of the landlord and the obligatory to ‘tipping of the cap?’
When someone calls me ‘Sir’, and the engagement is to have further continuance, I immediately tell them my Christian name. Then they know what they should call me. (Ah Lads … Lads … please!) In this country when we are doing business over the phone, most people I know will give their Christian name as a contact, whereas an Englishman is more likely to say, ‘This is Mr Smith.’
The only place that ‘Sir’ rolls easy for me is in America. It is very much a part of the everyday vocabulary of Americans. They do it so naturally – same as their use of Ma’am for the ladies.
For a little three-letter word, it is fascinating as to how the tone can change depending on the connotation of the ‘Sir’ being used.
The garda who pulls you in for speeding, will use the word robotically and liberally – because he knows he has you by the short-and-curlies – and you would never manage to count all the ‘Sirs’ you receive whilst fumbling for your driver’s licence.
The person who isn’t going to do what you want, simply because they don’t have to, will have their very own inbuilt special curl to, ‘sorry Sir, I can’t help you.’ The bouncer at the nightclub door will deliver a very icy ‘Sir’ to the guy he has decided already has too much drink in him to be admitted!
The guy who stops at your gate, lets down the window of a red van, and proceeds to give you a sales pitch on the cheap tools he is selling, (whilst omitting the small print that this is likely to be stolen property) has a version of your ‘Sir title’ that you will never here from any other sales pitch.
‘Sir’ is very much an English word – and in fairness they do use it well in comparison to my country. ‘What can I do for you, Sir?’ sounds a hell of a lot better than, ‘are y’all right?’ The word ‘Sir’ is also used nicely as a respecter of age.
The word ‘sir’ derives from the word ‘sire’. Then there is the titled ‘Sir’, such as Sir Walter Raleigh, which is bestowed as a knighthood or honour by the English parliament. This knighting is performed by the queen and only subjects of the Commonwealth may be so knighted. Therefore, Irish citizens cannot be knighted, but can be offered and accept an honoury knighthood.
Again, please don’t go away thinking that I am totally against the use of the word ‘Sir’. Its use by pupils in school and to those in authority is lovely to hear.
Going to school in Johnstown, Master Lawlor tried, without success, to have us use the word a little less sparingly. “Just say ‘Sir’ once at the beginning or end of what you have to say, and that is enough”, he would tell us.
Obviously we pupils must have felt that this would be less respectful – because we couldn’t do it! “Please Sir, I was in the playground … and please Sir, the ball went out in Macken’s field … and please Sir, I was crossing the wall to get the ball back … and please Sir, I didn’t know Johnny was going for the ball as well … and please Sir, I didn’t meant to kick him in the head!”
When my daughter, Olga, came home after her first day in secondary school, I asked her, ‘what is your teacher’s name?’ ‘Sir’, she replied! Olga had previously only had female teachers. (Including her own mother, as it happened.)
I hope that all this is of some use to you, dear reader – but that it doesn’t give the editor a notion that I should be addressing him as ‘Sir’ …
‘Polite society’ is a group which says to your face the reverse of what it says behind your back.