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I can find many instances of this expression, especially in descriptions of characters' lines in written dialog, but I can't find any mention to the expression itself. I understand that deference means polite submission and respect, so I take mock deference to mean that it's mocking someone by speaking with deference; like an employer calling an employee by boss.

Not being a native English speaker, I'm looking for a grounded meaning of this expression so I can be confident that I'm using it right.

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It means simulated deference , – Josh61 Apr 17 '14 at 19:42
For a (highly exaggerated) study in mock deference, I refer you to Steve Martin's performance as the Insolent Waiter in the original Muppet Movie (youtube.com/watch?v=V-kuOu_PSME), particularly at 0:54 where he responds to Kermit's telling him "You may serve us now, please," with "Oh, may I?" and at 2:03 as he bows out of Kermit's and Miss Piggy's presence. – Sven Yargs Apr 17 '14 at 20:33
You're pretty much correct here; it's basically a snide/sarcastic method of indicating contempt/disdain of a person who might actually have authority over the speaker – kolossus Apr 17 '14 at 21:04
up vote 4 down vote accepted

It is not mocking someone by speaking with deference so much as speaking with a deference which is "mock" as in not real deference. It would be pretending to speak with deference when you are not. Usually "mock deference" is also obviously fake.

mock, adj: preceding a noun, designates a thing that imitates, or deceptively resembles that which the noun properly denotes; pretend, imitation, sham, counterfeit.

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It isn't necessarily mocking the subject of the deference although this is a typical use of mock deference. Mock deference is fake deference, usually obviously fake deference for effect. This is often intended to make fun of the subject of the deference but can be used in other ways. For instance it might be used to mock a third person, or just for amusing effect without being at the expense of any particular person. – smithkm Apr 17 '14 at 22:39

The trick with mock deference is that in text, the mocking component doesn't always come through. In your example however, I would switch it around, and say that mock deference would be an employee telling the boss, "You are our boss so of course anything you think needs doing is what's best. " ... note how depending on your tone when reading that it could be actual deference.

Really the embodiment of mock deference to me is Scar, from The Lion King.

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Good point about the text - or as my colleagues and I like to say, "Transcript reads....". – Kristina Lopez Apr 17 '14 at 21:36

No. Mock deference means you are pretending to be a social inferior when in fact you are not.

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