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An honorific is a word or expression with connotations conveying esteem or respect when used in addressing or referring to a person. Sometimes, the term is used not quite correctly to refer to an honorary title. It is also often conflated with systems of honorific speech in linguistics, which are grammatical or morphological ways of encoding the relative social status of speakers.
Typically, honorifics are used for second and third persons; use for first person is less common. Some languages have anti-honorific (despective or humilific) first person forms (meaning something like "your most humble servant" or "this unworthy person") whose effect is to enhance the relative honor accorded to a second or third person.
Modern English honorifics
The most common honorifics in modern English are usually placed immediately before the name of the subject. Honorifics which can be used of any adult of the appropriate sex include "Mr", "Mrs", "Miss", and "Ms", and an example of a gender neutral honorific is "Mx". Other honorifics denote the honored person’s occupation, for instance "Doctor", "Captain", "Coach", Officer, "Reverend" for all clergy and/or "Father" (for a Catholic priest) and some Anglican clergy, or "Professor". Abbreviations of academic degrees or professional certifications, used after a person's name, may also be seen as a kind of honorific (e.g. "Jane Doe, Ph.D.") "Master" as a prefix ahead of the name of boys and young men up to about 16 years of age is less common than it used to be, but is still used by older people addressing the young in formal situations and correspondence.
Some honorifics act as complete replacements for a name, as "Sir" or "Ma'am", or "Your Honor". Subordinates will often use honorifics as punctuation before asking a superior a question or after responding to an order: "Yes, Sir" or even "Sir, yes Sir."
A judge is addressed as "Your Honor" when on the bench, and may be referred to as "His/Her Honor"; the plural form would be "Your Honors". Similarly, a monarch (ranking as a king or emperor) and his consort may be addressed or referred to as "Your/His/Her Majesty", "Their Majesties", etc. (but there is no customary honorific accorded to a female monarch's consort, as he is usually granted a specific style). Monarchs below kingly rank are addressed as "Your/His/Her Highness", the exact rank being indicated by an appropriate modifier, e.g. "His Serene Highness" for a member of a princely dynasty, or "Her Grand Ducal Highness" for a member of a family that reigns over a grand duchy. Verbs with these honorifics as subject are conjugated in the third person (e.g. "you are going" vs. "Your Honor is going" or "Her Royal Highness is going".)
In music, a distinguished conductor or virtuoso instrumentalist may be known as "Maestro".
In aviation, airline/charter pilots who serve as Pilot in command are usually addressed as "Captain" plus their full name or surname. This tradition is slowly diminishing in the United States and most EU countries. However, a lot of other countries, especially in Asia, fully adhere to this tradition and address airline pilots, military pilots, and flight instructors exclusively as "Captain" even outside of the professional environment. In addition, such countries' etiquette rules dictate to place this title on all the official letters and social invitations, business cards, identification documents, etc. In the United States, when addressing a pilot, common etiquette does not require the title "Captain" to be printed on official letters or invitations before the addressee's full name. However, this is optional (akin to lawyer's "Esq" title after the name) and may be used where appropriate, especially when addressing airline pilots with many years of experience.
Honorifics in other languages and cultures
Pakistan has a large number of honorific forms that may be used with or as a substitute for names. The most common honorifics in Pakistan are usually placed immediately before the name of the subject or immediately after the subject. There are many variations across Pakistan.
The traditional Urdu honorific in Pakistan for a male is the prefix Mohtaram. For example, Syed Mohammad Jahangir would become Mohtaram Syed Mohammad Jahangir. The traditional Urdu honorific in Pakistan for a female is the prefix Mohtarama. For example, Shamim Ara would become Mohtarama Shamim Ara.
The traditional Urdu honorific in Pakistan for a male is the suffix Sahab. For example, Syed Zaki Ahmed would become Syed Zaki Ahmed Sahab. The traditional Urdu honorific in Pakistan for a female is the suffix Sahiba; for instance, Shamim Ara would become Shamim Ara Sahiba.
Spanish has a number of honorific forms that may be used with or as substitutes for names, such as señor or caballero ("Mr.", "Sir", "Gentleman"); señora ("Madam", "Mrs.", "Lady", "ma'am") and señorita ("Miss", "young lady"); licenciado for a person with bachelor's or a professional degree (e.g., attorneys and engineers); maestro for a teacher, master mechanic, or person with a master's degree; doctor ("doctor"); etc. Also used is don (male) or doña (female) for people of rank or, in some Latin American countries (e.g., Puerto Rico), for any senior citizen.
Italian honorifics are usually limited to formal situations. Professional titles like Ingegnere (engineer) are often substituted for the ordinary Signore (mister), while Dottore (doctor) is used very freely for any graduate of a university. When ending with an e, honorifics lose it when juxtaposed to a surname: dottor Rossi, cardinal Martini, ragionier Fantozzi.
Turkish honorifics generally follow the first name, especially if they refer to gender or particular social statuses (e.g. Name Bey [Mr.], Name Hanım [Ms.], Name Öğretmen [teacher or cleric]). Such honorifics are used both in formal and informal situations. A newer honorific is Sayın, which precedes the surname or full name, and is not gender-specific. (e.g. Sayın Name Surname, or Sayın Surname). They are generally used in very formal situations.
Indian honorifics abound, covering formal and informal relationships for social, commercial, spiritual, and generational links. Honorifics may be prefix, suffix, or replacement types. There are many variations.
India: Prefix type
The most common honorifics in India are usually placed immediately before the name of the subject. Honorifics which can be used of any adult of the appropriate sex include Sri (also Romanised as Shri, acronym for Sriman), Smt (acronym for Srimati), and Kum (acronym for Kumari). In Tamil, Thiru (acronym of Thiruvalar for males) and Thirumathi (for females) are used.
India: Replacement type
Some honorifics, like Bhavān or Bhavatī, act as complete replacements for a name.
For example, in Gujarati, for an uncle who is your mother's brother, the replacement honorific maama (long "a" then short "a") is used, and a male friend will often earn the suffix honorific of bhai.
India: Suffix type
- The traditional Hindi honorific is the suffix -ji. For example, M.K. Gandhi (the Mahatma) was often referred to as Gandhi-ji. (Hindi, like many languages, distinguishes between pronouns for persons older in age or status. Such a person is referred as aap; a person of same status is called tum [both substituting for "you" in English]. A similar distinction exists for third person pronouns. When honorifics are attached in Hindi, the verb matches the plural case.)
- The traditional Kannada honorific is the suffix -avaru. For example, Visveswariah was referred to as Visveswariah-avaru.
- The traditional Marathi honorific is the suffix -rao. For example, Madhav Scindia was referred to as Madhav-rao.
- The traditional Tamil honorific is the suffix Avargal/Vaal. The Dalai Lama would become Dalai Lama Avargal.
- The traditional Telugu honorific is the suffix Garu. Thus, the Potti Sriramulu would be Potti Sriramulu Garu.
- The traditional Bengali honorific for ordinary men is the suffix Babu, used with the person's given (first) name. Thus, Shubhash Basu would be Shubhash-Babu. For men with whom one has a more formal relationship, the suffix Moshai (mohashoi) is used with the person's family (last) name. Thus, Shubhash Basu would be Basu-Moshai.
During the ancient and imperial periods, Chinese honorifics varied greatly based on one's social status, but with the end of Imperial China, many of these distinctions fell out of colloquial use. Some honorifics remain in use today, especially in formal writings for the court and business setting. In fact, the ability to use honorifics in China is now seen as a display of social status. In other words, educated people tend to rigidly use honorifics as a display of their status.
In addition, the use of honorifics vary greatly across Chinese-speaking regions in the world. In Taiwan, for example, honorifics are more widely used in daily interactions. In Mainland China, however, honorifics tend to recede to formal settings.
Japanese honorifics are similar to English titles like "Mister" and "Miss", but in Japanese, which has many honorifics, their use is mandatory in many formal and informal social situations. Japanese grammar as a whole tends to function on hierarchy — honorific stems are appended to verbs and some nouns, and in many cases one word may be exchanged for another word entirely with the same verb- or noun-meaning, but with different honorific connotations.
I Gusti means "His or Her Royal Majesty". Bendara Raden Mas, Bendara Mas, or the contraction 'ndoro mean "Prince, flag-bearer 'His Higness'". Bapak and its contraction Pak mean: Sir, Mister, or literally "Father".
Ibu and its contraction Bu mean: Madam, Ma'am, Ms, or Mrs, literally "Mother".
Raden Emas and its contraction Mas mean: Mr. among colleagues, friends, and others of slightly higher age or social status, literally "Golden Son", "Lord", or "Heir Apparent". Raden Emas Behi, contracted to Mas Behi, means "2nd Heir Apparent" and is now obsolete. Raden Behi, contracted to Den Behi, means "Heir Apparent" and is now obsolete. mbak yu and the more common mbak are derived from Surakarta court to address adolescent or marriage age unmarried women, but is now for women, with no age or marital status connotation.
Eyang Puteri and its contraction Eyang mean: grandmother, literally "Grand Lady".
Eyang Putera Kakung and its contraction Eyang Kakung mean: grandfather, literally "Grand Sir".
Bapak Gede and its contraction Pak de are used for a big father, uncle, or relative older than one's father, literally "Grand Sir".
Bapak Cilik and its contraction Pak lik are used for a very familiar friend or sir, literally a small father or a relative younger than one's Gaflakapus father — but very familiar.
Mbok is not an honorific and denotes an older woman of very low status.
Bang or Bung is a somewhat outdated, egalitarian term to refer to a brotherhood among males. Bang is Betawi language for Mas.
Korean honorifics are similar to Japanese honorifics; their use is mandatory in many formal and informal social situations. Korean grammar as a whole tends to function on hierarchy — honorific stems are appended to verbs and some nouns, and in many cases, one word may be exchanged for another word entirely with the same verb- or noun-meaning, but with different honorific connotations. Linguicists say that there are six levels of honorifics in Korean but, in daily conversation, only three of them are widely used in contemporary Korean.
- Main article: Malay names
Malay honorifics are the Malay language's complex system of titles and honorifics which is still extensively used in Malaysia and Brunei. Singapore, whose Malay royalty was abolished by the British colonial government in 1891, has adopted civic titles for its leaders.
In areas of East Africa, where the Bantu language Kiswahili is spoken, mzee is frequently used for an elder to denote respect by younger speakers. It is used in direct conversation and used in referring to someone in the third person.
- Your Highness
- Your Honor
- Your Lordship
- Your Majesty
- Your Worship
People who have a strong sense of egalitarianism, such as Quakers and certain socialists, eschew honorific titles. When addressing or referring to someone, they will use the person's name, an informal pronoun, or some other style implying social equality, such as "brother", "friend", or "comrade". This was also the practice in Revolutionary France which used Citoyen ("Citizen") as the manner of address.
Culturally specific usage
- Indian honorifics
- Canadian honorifics
- French honorifics
- Islamic honorifics
- Chinese honorifics
- Japanese honorifics
- Korean honorifics
- Kunya (Arabic)
- Honorifics in Judaism
- Thai royal and noble titles
- Style (manner of address)
- Use of courtesy titles and honorifics in professional writing
- T-V distinction
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