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Is it disrespectful to use "mister" with a person's first name? Examples: Mr. Tom, Mr. Phil, etc.

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    And if it is an insult, what is it meant to convey? – Thomas Hardy Jan 9 '14 at 15:54
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    This probably depends more on tone of voice and context than it does the actual words being said. – Kevin Workman Jan 9 '14 at 16:04
  • I have a friend (in his sixties, here in Yorkshire) who often welcomes friends with phrases like "It's Mr Colin". (Some other people in the same social group sometimes do the same, but my impression is that they have caught it from him. I may be wrong about this.) In his case, it is certainly not disrespectful. – Colin Fine Jan 9 '14 at 18:04
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    Context, context, context. Absolutely any word combination can be disrespectful depending on context. Without context, this question is unanswerable (unless you count "it depends" as an answer). With context, it probably wouldn't exist. – RegDwigнt Jan 10 '14 at 0:27
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In many English speaking parts of the world, Mr Firstname would be how a servant speaks to an employer. If used outside of that relationship it may be a teasing (or even angry) way to say "you are treating me like a servant." However this wouldn't happen between strangers, or in a context where you weren't sure whether you were being insulted or not. Some children, raised to call all adults Mr Lastname, Ms Lastname etc may transition to Mr Firstname, Ms Firstname etc to indicate the closeness of the family relationship while still addressing the adult respectfully. If you are reading dialog where someone calls another person Mr Firstname, assume it should convey tremendous politeness, but keep in mind excessive politeness ("oh yes sir, thankyou sir, that's so generous of you sir") may in fact be meant sarcastically.

The word Mister alone, in say "listen, Mister, you are keeping me from where I need to be" is rude. It carries a certain "I can't be bothered to learn or use your name, but I am clearly addressing only you" tone to it. Very different from calling the unknown person Sir, for example.

And finally Mr Adjective can be gently teasing or flat out rude. "OK, Mr StickInTheMud, we won't go!" or "Thanks to Mr Rules, it's not happening."

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The intention of the speaker and the peculiarities of the person so addressed determine whether addressing someone as Mr. Firstname pleases or aggravates the addressee. I know that I wouldn't like to be called "Mr. Sven," because it sounds either too familiar or too obsequious or too creepily old-fashioned, going back to a day when—in the U.S. South, anyway—it was standard practice for a black servant or slave to address members of his or her employer's or owner's family as Mister (or Marse or Miss or Miz) Firstname.

Specific instances of being addressed as Mr Actualfirstname aside, there are a couple of forms of generic Mr Firstname usage in which the intention is anything but flattering.

Wentworth & Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang (1961) includes this entry:

Mister Charlie A white man. Some Negro use.

In 1964, however, James Baldwin published a play based on the real-life murder of Emmett Till, called Blues for Mister Charlie, which may have given the slang term a longer life and certainly gave it literary resonance.

Chapman & Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang, Third Edition (1996) identifies two Mister Firstname slang terms:

Mister Charlie black by 1960 A white man; =the MAN.

and:

Mister Tom n phr by 1960s A black man who wishes to be or has been assimilated into the white middle-class culture; =UNCLE TOM.

Addressing or referring to someone as either "Mr Charlie" or "Mr Tom" when that is not the person's given name is calculated to be offensive and/or dismissive.

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No, it is certainly not an insult, though a trifle quaint and old-fashioned.

A century ago a young boy of a gentry family might have been addressed in that way by the family's servants. Sometimes they would have used 'Master Thomas', or Master William'.

The title 'master' is still used on envelopes when corresponding with a boy who is under the age of about 12 - 'Master David Henderson, 15, Green Hedges Lane, etc.' Though this is less the practice nowadays than it was when I was a child in the late forties/ early fifties.

Outside of Europe, such as in the Far East, some non-native English speakers can be confused over which is the given name and which the surname. (this arises from the fact that in many languages, including importantly Chinese, the family name is written first) It is not unusual for officials, such as airline or hotel clerks etc to call you 'Mr' followed by your Christian name.

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    My grandparents, who would inevitably address letters to me using the title "Master," would sarcastically address me as "Mister" when they thought I was getting too big for my britches. "Mister Sartin, do you really expect to eat dinner tonight when the trash from lunch has not yet been taken to the curb?" – Michael Owen Sartin Jan 9 '14 at 16:28
  • I was born and brought up in Britain and have lived here for all but six years of my life, but I have never known anyone use 'Mister' in the way you describe. Your profile does not tell us where you live, nor the country most familiar to you. – WS2 Jan 9 '14 at 16:54
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This doesn't exactly address the question, but it seems at least tangentially relevant.

Here's a situation in which "Mister {last name}" can be used with negative connotation: Sometimes people will refer to others as Mister to stress that they do not have a relevant title. This is done in such a way as to make the point that the speaker has some authority over his counterpart.

It's the height of bureaucratic snobbery.

"Senator Williams, I must urge caution in this matter!"

"I am more than capable of making my own decisions, Mister Tate."

A similar example involving a civilian giving advice to a General:

"Excuse me General, but the men are tired. I don't think we'll make it out of this valley without some rack time."

"Well, Mister Thompson, tell 'the guys' they simply do not have a choice in the matter."

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