Terms of Respect

termsMany terms of respect depend mostly on culture and language. Some honorific titles and kinship relationships cross those boundaries when there’s some kind of shared history. These are some of my observations concerning their usage in both the United States and the Philippines.

Honorific Titles

Most people in America are familiar with honorific titles (also called name prefixes) like Mr., Mrs. and Ms. Most are also familiar with “sir” and “ma’am” when addressing a person of higher authority. The Philippines adopted similar usage sometime in the past, but it’s very odd to listen to someone being addressed here. Even when speaking English, Filipinos will pronounce some words differently.

When “ma’am” is spoken by a Filipino, it sounds like “mom”. When my younger son started going to a nursing school, many years ago, he was told to address the male teachers as “sir” and then the first name. With female teachers, it was “ma’am” and then the first name.

In places where people are addressed with respect by name, in the United States, it’s either Mr. or Ms. and the last name. In the Philippines, they use the first name instead of the last. If someone doesn’t know the name of the person they’re addressing, they use “sir” or “ma’am” as a standalone title.

“Po” is the Tagalog word for “sir” or “ma’am” because Tagalog is gender-neutral. “Oo” means “yes” and “opo” means “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am”. Some people say “opo” instead of “umopo”, telling someone to sit, but it’s the slang version of the word. It’s just like how they say “wag” instead of “huwag”. I call it lazy.

Kinship Terms

I won’t get into all the kinship terms I know about, merely those involving respect. American English inherited many of its terms from British English. The Filipino Tagalog language inherited many of its terms from Chinese and Spanish. Some Tagalog terms are actually mixtures of Spanish and Tagalog, but I’ll avoid those.

Let’s start with lolo and lola, grandfather and grandmother. “Great” and “great-great” grandparents have additional words attached, but no one addresses people that way. Great uncles and great aunts, the siblings of grandparents, are also called lolo and lola.

Tito and tita (or tiyo and tiya), uncle and aunt. Parents siblings and sibling spouses are called tito and tita by their children, but so are their cousins. The boyfriends and girlfriends of children, nieces, and nephews also call parents, uncles, and aunts tito and tita out of respect.

Kuya and ate (pronounced “ah-tay”) are terms for older male and female siblings, as well as other older people who wouldn’t otherwise be addressed with respect.

Origins and Other Oddities

The origins of may honorific titles go back centuries. “Ma’am” is derived from “madam”. “Mister” is derived from “master”. “Missus”, “miss” and “Ms.” are all derived from “mistress”. If you read history, you should know that “master” and “mistress” were commonly used for people who didn’t have other formal titles.

Today, “master” can be considered a pejorative in many cases and “mistress” means the female lover instead of the lady of the house. From what I understand, it’s perfectly acceptable to call a woman of respect “madam” in England. It’s an insult in the United States because “madam” usually refers to a woman in charge of a whorehouse.

When I was growing up, I was told to address people as “sir”, “ma’am”, “Mr.” or “Mrs.”, unless I knew a woman to be single, in which case it was “Miss”. Somewhere along the line, women started demanding “Ms.” (pronounced “miz”) regardless of marital status. It must have had something to do with women’s rights, equality, or some such nonsense.

Image by cgarniersimon from Pixabay

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