Would it be grammatical and idiomatic to use master instead of mister or would people think I am mocking them and therefore I am disrespectful? I have no problem sounding Oxonian or being verbose but I would certainly dislike being disrespectful and mocking.

I am not confortable using mister, sir or lord.

My problem with mister is that I think of being a mister as less than being a master.

My problem with sir is that etymologically it means senior, elder. From Senex.

My problem with lord is that I fear that using it would be mockery more than using master.

Greeks call Κύριε every person they do not feel confortable enough (T-V distinction) as well as God even though God is treated as Tu not Vous.

In the Romance languages they are more fond of using Senior derived words and not Dominus derived ones but it is not a problem calling people Dono/Dona instead of Senhor/Senhora.

  • The current trend in etiquette in most of the English-speaking world is toward informalism. Rather than loftier titles expressing greater respect, they can increasingly be read as being cold and distant, a subtle negative marker. Dec 27, 2019 at 0:16
  • @MikeGraham Meek people just want to use a lofty title. Especially young people. You want to be seen as respectful. T-V bleached probably because everyone wanted to show negative politeness. I have no problem showing fear, hesitation and scruple. Dec 27, 2019 at 0:28
  • @HotLicks Would you use chap or bud for people you are not on a first-name basis with or is this supposed to be a joke? I do not appreciate jokes when I am earnestly trying to learn. I flagged you preventively. Dec 27, 2019 at 1:36
  • Words like "chap" and "bud" are in real use, but are very fraught to use in practice. There is a good post about them at english.stackexchange.com/a/334437/2085 -- the top answer quite reasonably recommends that non-native speakers not use them at all. That might be a bit overly strong, but they are definitely trickier than most parts of the language, for advanced users only. The correct choice depends on a very good knowledge of the specific, narrow culture one is operating in: location, relationship, situation, etc. all affects their propriety. Dec 27, 2019 at 1:51
  • @GeorgeNtoulos - You have objected to most of the more reasonable terms.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 27, 2019 at 2:13

3 Answers 3


I suspect most people would be confused. Others might even be offended, associating the address Master with slavery.

In English, the honorific "Master" has an archaic (out-of-use but still familiar) use for addressing young boys, who are not yet in such state as they can properly be called "Mister". I am not aware of any other still-familiar, general-purpose use of "Master" as a form of address, though narrow uses exist, for example of someone's martial arts trainer in some practices, or in the context of African-American chattel slavery.

My problem with sir is that etymologically it means senior, elder. From Senex.

The etymology is irrelevant. "Master" and "Mister", for example, derive from the same root, yet you treat them differently, as rightly you should. Etymology and meaning are not the same thing.


The English equivalent of the T–V distinction is when you refer to someone as Mr Smith or Mrs Jones because you are not on a first-name basis with them. You would also use sir or ma’am respectively for those two individuals.

  • Mr Smith, your car is ready for you now, sir.

  • Mrs Jones, your car is ready for you now, ma’am.

Those are two separate markers, but they go together as a form of distancing. Anything beyond using sir or ma’am with people you are not on a first-name basis with, like our Mr Smith or Mrs Jones, is just going to confuse people — at best, and offend them at worst.

Avoid at all possible costs calling people you even don’t know by strange names. They will take it as a form of unlooked-for hostility.

  • Since I heard that Master was used for chirdren I would not be confortable with calling Mr Smith as Master Smith. Even if in Greek we would call him Master Smith and use a different conjugation/declension Εσύ/Εσείς. But I always thought it was Young Master and not simply Master. Κύριος is both the owner of something and a title to address a person Dec 27, 2019 at 1:33
  • @GeorgeNtoulos There's a big difference grammatically between titles like Mrs or Captain that serve as formal honorifics before the person's surname, and words used in formal direct address ("vocatively") like ma'am or sir.
    – tchrist
    Dec 27, 2019 at 1:41
  • 1
    @GeorgeNtoulos It really sounds like you are trying to find a direct translation of concepts you have in Greek to English. It is possible that there is one in Greek English, where you share a cultural context, but the cultural contexts in the English-speaking world are different. Dec 27, 2019 at 1:54
  • 2
    @GeorgeNtoulos I would encourage you to step back and think of it as a game: how do I play the etiquette game in this other culture? In some cultures, sniffling is okay but blowing your nose would be rude; in others, sniffling would be rude and you are expected to blow your nose. In some cultures, wearing your shoes into your host's house is an insult; in others, taking them off would be presumptuous and gross. There is no right or wrong, it's just a game. The right or wrong things are deep underneath these surface gestures--respect, kindness, and other such values that all cultures share. Dec 27, 2019 at 1:55

There are virtually no situations in the UK where you should address anyone as "Master" or "Lord". As has been said, to do so would cause confusion or offence (to the extent that, if you were in a bar, you might well get punched). Even as the address for a young boy Master is very old fashioned (think of an elderly relative sending a birthday card).

The only occassions where these terms are used are extremely formal - to the extent that the person so addressed is likely to be wearing ceremonial clothing.

I have students from outside of the UK who are uncomfortable addressing their (university) teachers informally. It is fine for them to use "sir" when they speak to me. The equivalent for a woman would be "ma'am". I am nearly 60 and I suspect some of my younger colleagues find it a bit strange (though acceptable) to be addressed like this. Mr or Dr Smith, Mrs/Ms or Dr Jones are always fine, as is Professor Singh. You won't hear many other titles commonly used.

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