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I regularly see films, books, stories and other English usages in which a person uses the term "son" where one might normally use a name. Usually, it's a father and they're portrayed in a reasonably good relationship with their teenage or adult child:

“How was breakfast, son?”

I would expect a close family member to use the first name instead (not “How was school, daughter?” or “How was work, son?”, but “How was breakfast, Alan?” or “Are you okay, Joe?”)

I'm excluding uses of “son” where it's widely used in the UK, such as for emphasis ("Listen, son!") or other proper nouns such as "Father" used as an honorific.

I've never heard a person actually use “son” as one might use a name, but it seems quite widely used in English writing and scripts. Maybe it's a UK/US difference or present in some subcultures and not in others?

Can anyone shed light on whether this is actual usage, or just a writer's trope?

  • Sometimes, but generally only humorously... – marcellothearcane Sep 16 '17 at 20:42
  • It is used. I think it’s too impersonal and distancing personally, but I’ve seen/heard it in real life. – Jim Sep 16 '17 at 21:00
  • Some people do; some don't. – Drew Sep 17 '17 at 1:27
  • Men definitely use it in the US South to address a younger man. I have a feeling, but am not sure, if it is falling out of favor, similar to how using 'boy' is already deprecated because of its patronizing (sometimes even racist) tone. But to one's biological son? Sounds a bit old-fashioned, like using 'junior'. – Mitch Sep 17 '17 at 2:06
  • @Mitch "Boy" is also used with affection by some fathers in Britain too - though north of the Trent it would probably be "lad". (Indeed "lad" and "lassie" become more acceptable as terms of endearment, the further north you go, and in Scotland are everyday terms of endearment.) – WS2 Sep 17 '17 at 9:23
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In Britain it is quite common for a man to refer to his own son as "Son", in place of the son's given name. My own father used it with me, and I with my own son and grandson. "Daughter" is far less often used in this way.

It is also not unusual, but perhaps less common than it once was, for any older man to refer to a younger one, affectionately as "son". It can come across as patronising, and be used to imply that the older person knows better, and is speaking in the best interests of the younger man. But it can also come across as a genuine and endearing salutation, even with strangers, especially in perilous situations such as between soldiers.

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    Interesting that "son" seems to be used this way but not "daughter." In slang use, "son" can be a general term of address from one male to another also, though in early uses it seems to have been more often "sonny." – RaceYouAnytime Sep 16 '17 at 23:55
  • Interesting. Could you add some examples of how it is/was used in everyday life that way, to your answer? And whether it is some specific part of society where it was more used, if you have any impressions on that? It would help to clarify – Stilez Sep 17 '17 at 8:19
  • @Stilez I would be reluctant to be too specific without doing some research - times do change - and being someone of a certain age I could easily find myself out of date. – WS2 Sep 17 '17 at 9:25
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Yes,I've used the reference to my own son and to my grandsons and male children as a term of endearment and also in a didactic context, such as 'This is how to do it son' or 'boy'. It can be used also in a derogatory or condescending tone but not necessarily so.

Danny, my boy, let me tell you something.

Son, let me show you.

Come here son!

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  • Not quite the same usage that first one - I mean more, in place of a name, not as well as one. More like the other 2 usages. – Stilez Nov 4 '17 at 6:56

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