Why was Master weakened to Mister so as to address individual hominēs sapientēs and the English language lost the thou/you distinction while the Greek language kept both Kύριος intact and the Eσύ/Eσείς distinction?

Sir comes from Senex and I am not confortable with using Sir knowing it is a cognate with Senille.

Maybe a sociolinguistic approach would best explain this particular fact.

The Greeks most often earnestly use the plural Εσείς to address any adult(or even children older than 13 years old) that has not requested to quit formallities.

  • Linguistics may chip in.
    – Kris
    Sep 27, 2019 at 14:49
  • @Kris Is it honestly an invitation fot them to chip in and my question is on-topic. Or is it an indirect jab directed at me so I post the question there instead of here as it is off-topic here? Sep 27, 2019 at 15:04
  • I s'pose the mods will do the needful either way.
    – Kris
    Sep 27, 2019 at 15:05
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    Sir is not cognate with senile – it comes from the same root, yes, but that doesn’t make it a cognate. Senate/senator comes from the same root, too. I’m not sure what you’re saying the commonality is between the reduction from master to mister and the loss of the old singular pronoun. They are two completely separate developments that have nothing to do with each other. Also, you say Greek kept the T–V distinction intact, but in fact they introduced it – it’s a relatively new phenomenon, completely unknown in Ancient Greek. Sep 27, 2019 at 20:31
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    @GeorgeNtoulos You should probably split it up into two questions, then, since they’re not really related (though I believe the formality question has been asked before – there’s probably an existing question that explains it). We prefer questions that deal with just one topic here. Sep 27, 2019 at 21:27

1 Answer 1


How ‘master’ became ‘mister’ Grammarphobia

  • In late Middle English, people began using “Mr.,” an abbreviated version of “master,” as a title “prefixed to the surname or first name of a man without a higher, honorific, or professional title,” according to the OED.

  • When people began speaking it, “Mr.” was pronounced like “master,” but “from the 16th cent. it was, at least in rapid or careless
    speech, with consequent alteration of the vowel of the first syllable,” according to the dictionary.

The first written example in the OED for the word spelled “mister” is from a 1642, and as the article notes it was a convoluted semantic shift of convenience, not one motivated by slave, master, Mr. etc. Even now, with master freed from mister, master can be used for juvenile men ... but its use now fades, probably for now extant political correctness.

So, why was Master weakened to Mister? It was simple semantic shift for brevity of abbreviations. There were dozens of different spellings for master. Brevity here meaning ... for lack of a better term, laziness and (economy) of language, not some early politically correct mid period BrE.

  • "Even now, with master freed from mister and can be used for juvenile men ... it use to fades. So, why was Master weakened to Mister? A simple emantic shift for brevity of abbreviations, not some early politically correct mid period BrE." Could you please improve on the last 3 sentences as it is hard for me to understand what you mean? Sep 27, 2019 at 15:11
  • edited.........
    – lbf
    Sep 27, 2019 at 15:19
  • Thank you earnestly. I can still not understand the segments "and can be used for juvenile men ... it use to fades." and "not some early politically correct mid period BrE." Would it be "being used(its use being allowed) for juvenile men.... its use fades too" I do not want to assume which was the intended meaning I like clarity fro safety reasons. The second segment though is really an enigma. Sep 27, 2019 at 15:32
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    @Cascabel I am earnestly sorry if I appear to be expecting social changes in Greece to affect the rest of the word. But a good explanation would be how the society was different. If society was different it could cause the differences in language development. Otherwise Κύριος was not weakened even if it is frequently abreviated like Master was while the T-V distinction was introduces instead of lost. Social differences between the place the language is spoken could explain why English is the way it is. Sep 27, 2019 at 21:38
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    I'm sorry, but I was just on the point of saying..."That is way beyond the scope of our site." Try Linguistics.SE. It is an interesting question...There is also some correlation with Korean and Russian from the same period of time. I have written on that previously on SE. Sep 27, 2019 at 21:40

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