Friday, March 14, 2008

Form and Formality

Generally, we tend to have this idea that the longer a title, the better it must be. Therefore, an archbishop must be several points holier than bishops, and grand dukes must be higher-born than dukes. However, consider "viscount" and "count" (or, in English, "earl"). Earls rank above viscounts in the peerage hierarchy.

Now, one that really gets me is "sir" and "sirrah". People assume that because "sirrah" is longer than "sir", it must therefore be more formal. Unfortunately, this is NOT so!

Sir is a general title of respect, and formally a title of knights and gentry. Sirrah, on the other hand, is a derogatory title used by the upper classes to address their lower peers or servants.

"You, sir, are a disgrace" - strong
"You, sirrah, are a disgrace" - stronger.

So the next time you want to thank someone for a service, please choose your words carefully. They may not be so forgiving the second time.

(In other news, I'm moving out of this hellhole into a [relative] paradise. Although once women move in as well, that may change...)

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