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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sir is an honorific used as a title (see Knight), or as a courtesy title to address a man without using his given or family name in most English speaking cultures. It is often used in formal correspondence (Dear Sir, Right Reverend Sir).

The term was once reserved for use only towards equals, one of superior rank or status, such as an educator or commanding officer, an elder (especially by a minor), or as a form of address from a merchant to a customer.

Equivalent terms of address are "ma'am" or "madam" in most cases, or in the case of a very young woman, girl, or unmarried woman who prefers to be addressed as such, "miss". The equivalent term for a knighted woman is Dame, or "Lady" for the wife of a knight.



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 is first documented in English in 1297, as title of honor of a knight or baronet, being a variant of sire, which was already used in English since at least 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, that is, for one who holds the title in her own right. This usage was devised in 1917, derived from the practice, up to the 17th century (and still also in legal proceedings), for the wife of a knight. The wife of a knight or baronet now, however, is styled "Lady [Surname]" (e.g. "Lady McCartney", but never "Lady Linda McCartney", which is reserved for the daughter of a duke, marquess or earl, or now, more recently, for a female member of the Orders of the Garter and the Thistle who possesses no higher title).

In the case of a military officer who is also a knight, the appropriate form of address puts the professional military rank first, then the correct manner of address for the individual, then his name, e.g.,

This is also the case with academic titles such as professor:

However, the title 'Doctor' is not used in combination with 'Sir': the knighthood takes precedence, and knighted doctors are addressed as knights, though they may still use any postnominal letters associated with their degrees.

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". A similar convention applies to Church of England clergy who receive knighthoods, for example:

Clergy in other denominations may use different conventions.

Dual nationals holding a Commonwealth citizenship that recognise the British monarch as head of state are entitled to use the styling. 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.

Especially in North America, the style "Sir" is frequently employed by knights of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre (female members of that order are styled Lady).

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.

"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 superior (e.g. Officer or Warrant Officer, but not usually a non-commissioned officer, in the military), "sir" is used to replace his specific rank. (Despite its use in many fictional works, this is not a term used for female superiors). 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 Commissioned Officers as "sir". Non-commissioned officers are addressed as sergeant, "sir", or by their full rank and last name (usually in Basic Training or Technical School), such as "Technical Sergeant Smith". Addressing an enlisted person in the Air Force as "sir" is considered a social faux pas, though there are many variations to these forms of address.

Possibly the shortness of the word helps explain another idiomatic but non-official practice in American English: emphatically saying Sir both before and after an obedient response to the senior, especially during drill, e.g., "Sir, yes, sir!". This is practiced by the US Coast Guard recruits.[citation needed] In both the United States Army and British Armed Forces, addressing an NCO as "Sir" is incorrect. 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 addressed as "Sir", the more familiar form of address as "Boss", "Gaffer" or "Guv" (short for "governor") being largely inventions of popular TV and cinema.


  • 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.
  • Sir and various Indianized variants such as Sirjee (sir with jee, an Indian honorific) are rather commonly used in Indian English and even vernacular languages. Another Indian extension is using Sir after the name, such as Gandhi Sir.


  1. ^ Royal Navy Flag Officers, 1904-1945: Admiral of the Fleet Sir Bruce Fraser,
  2. ^ Australian Dictionary of Biography: Field Marshal Sir Thomas Albert Blamey,

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

'SIR (Fr. sire, like sieur a variant of seigneur, from Lat. senior, comparative of senex, " old "), a title of honour. As a definite style it is now confined in the dominions of the British crown to baronets, knights of the various orders, and knights bachelor. It is never used with the surname only, being prefixed to the Christian name of the bearer; e.g. Sir William Jones. In formal written address, in the case of baronets the abbreviation Bar t, Bart. or B t (baronet) is added after the surname, 2 in the case of knights of any of the orders the letters indicating his style (K.G., K.C.B., &c.). In conversation a knight or baronet is addressed by the prefix and Christian name only , (e.g. " Sir William "). ").

The prefix Sir, like the French sire, was originally `' applied loosely to any person of position as a mere honorific distinction (as the equivalent of dominus, lord), as it still is in polite address, but Selden (Titles of Honor, p. 643) points out that as a distinct title " pre fixed to the Christian names in compellations and expressions of knights " its use " is very ancient," and 4 that in the reign of Edward I. it was " so much taken to be parcel of their names " that the Jews in their 5 documents merely transliterated it, instead of translating it by its Hebrew equivalent, as they would have done in the case of e.g. the Latin form dominus. How much earlier this custom originated it is difficult to say, owing to the ambiguity of extant documents, which are mainly in Latin. Much light is, however, thrown upon the matter by the Norman-French poem Guillaume le Mareschal, 3 which was written early in the 13th century. In this Sire is obviously used in the general sense mentioned above, i.e. as a title of honour applicable to all men of rank, whether royal princes or simple knights. The a French king's son is " Sire Loeis " (1. 1 774 1), the English king's son is " Sire Richard li filz le roi " (1. 17376); the marshal himself is " Sire Johan li Mareschals " (17014). We also find such notable names as " Sire Hubert de Burc " (11. 17308, 17357) and " Sire Hue de Bigot " - " Qui par lignage esteit des buens, E apres son pere fu cuens," 4 and such simple knights as " Sire Johan d'Erlee " (Early in Berks), the originator of the poem, who was squire to William the Marshal, or " Seingnor Will. de Monceals," who, though of very good family, was but constable of a castle. Throughout the poem, moreover, though Sire is the form is concommonly used it is freely interchanged with Seignor and Monseignor. Thus we have " Seingnor Huc. de Corni " (1. 10935), " Sire Hug. de Corni " (1. 10 945) and " Monseingnor Huon de Corni '7 (1. 10 955). Occasionally it is replaced by Dan (dominus), e.g. the brother of Louis VII. of France is " Dan Pierre de Cortenei " (1. 2131). Very rarely the e of Sire is dropped and we have Sir: e.g. " Sir Will." (1. 12513). Sometimes, where the surname is not territorial, the effect is closely approximate to more modern usage: e.g. Sire Aleins Basset, Sire Enris li filz Gerolt " (Sir Henry Fitz Gerald), " Sire Girard Talebot," " Sire Robert Tresgoz." It is notable that in connexion with a name the title Sire in the poem usually stands by itself: sometimes mis (my) is prefixed, but never li (the). Stagding alone, however, Sire denominates a class and the article is prefixed: e.g. les seirs d'Engleterre - the lords of England - (l. 15837). 5 " Sire," " Seignor " are used in addressing the king or a great noble.

It is thus not difficult to see how the title " Sir " came in England to be " prefixed to the expressions of knights." Knighthood was the necessary concomitant of rank, the ultimate proof of nobility. The title that expressed this was " Sire " or " Sir " prefixed to the Christian name. In the case of earls or barons it might be lost in that of the higher rank, though this was not ' Certainly not " from Cyr, Kvp, a diminutive of the Greek word Kvpcos " (F. W..Pixley, A History of the Baronetage, 1900, p. 208).

a For not very obvious reasons some baronets now object to the contracted form " Bart.," which had become customary. See Pixley, op. cit. p. 212.

Edited in 3 vols., with notes, introduction and mod. French translation by Paul Meyer for the Soc. de l'Histoire de France (Paris, 1891).

4 " Who was of good lineage and after his father became earl." Cf. 1. 18682. N'entendi mie Bien li sire Que mis sire Johan volt dire.

8 FIG. 3.-A semi-diagrammatic figure of the anterior end of half a Physcosoma, seen from the inner side. The introvert is fully everted and the lophophore expanded. The collar which surrounds the head is not fully extended. Two rows only of hooks are shown.

12, Coelom of upper lip; it tinuous with 21 13, Mouth.

14, Lower lip.

15, Blood-sinus of ventral side, continuous with 6.

16, Ventral portion of mesoblastic " skeleton." 17, Ventral nerve-cord.

18, Coelom, continuous with 12 and 2 I .

19, Oesophagus.

20, Dorsal vessel arising from the blood-sinus 6.

21, Coelom.

3 universal even much later: e.g. in the 14th century, Sir Henry Percy, the earl marshal, or Sir John Cobham, Lord Oldcastle. The process by which the title lost all connotation of nobility would open up the whole question of the evolution of classes in England (see Gentleman). In the case of baronets the prefix " Sir " before the Christian name was ordained by King James I. when he created the order.

The old use of " Sir " as the style of the clergy, representing a translation of dominus, would seem to be of later origin; in Guillaume le Mareschal even a high dignitary of the church is still maistre (master): e.g. " Maistre Pierres li cardonals " (1. 11 399). It survived until the honorific prefix " Reverend " became stereotyped as a clerical title in the 17th century. It was thus used in Shakespeare's day: witness " Sir Hugh Evans," the Welsh parson in The Merry Wives of Windsor. In the English universities there is a curious survival of this use of " Sir " for dominus, members of certain colleges, technically still " clerks," being entered in the books with the style of " Sir " without the Christian name (e.g. " Sir Jones ").

In ordinary address the title " Sir," like the French Monsieur, is properly applied to any man of respectability, according to circumstances. Its use in ordinary conversation, as readers of Boswell will realize, was formerly far more common than is now the case; nor did its employment imply the least sense of inferiority on the part of those who used it. The general decay of good manners that has accompanied the rise of democracy in Great Britain has, however, tended to banish its use, together with that of other convenient forms of politeness, from spoken intercourse. As an address between equals it has all but vanished from social usage, though it is still correct in addressing a stranger to call him " Sir." In general it is now used in Great Britain as a formal style, e.g. in letters or in addressing the chairman of a meeting; it is also used in speaking to an acknowledged superior, e.g. a servant to his master, or a subaltern to his colonel. " Sir " is also the style used in addressing the king or a prince of the blood royal (the French form " Sire " is obsolete).

In the United States, on the other hand, or at least in certain parts of it, the address is still commonly used by people of all classes among themselves, no relation of inferiority or superiority being in general implied.

The feminine equivalent of the title " sir " is legally " dame " (domin g); but in ordinary usage it is " lady," thus recalling the original identity of the French sire with the English " lord." (W. A. P.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also sir, sır, sír, sîr, and şîr




  1. (British) The titular prefix given to a knight or baronet


Simple English

Sir is a title commonly given to men who have been knighted, but also as a way to address any male, especially if his name is not known. The equivalents for a woman are "Lady" and "madam".

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