Respectfully Yours…

Hello, Friend!
Hello, Friend!

English is one of the few languages that does not have a formal and informal version of the word “you”.

In most other European languages it is very easy to show respect to someone by using the polite form. Only when one becomes closer to a person does one use the familiar form and then usually by invitation. Colleagues, neighbours and people we see every day will be “tu” in French. We don’t have to make a big fuss about how you address people. We even switch between situations. My doctor is Seb (first name) but I call him “vous” in the surgery and “tu” when we are out and meet socially.

Even using first names is not proof against this. I have worked for managers who insisted I use their first names but we still called each other “vous” in conversation (the formal variation).

In English we are stuck with calling people Mr. Mrs. or Miss (Ms.) to underline our distance from them. In some societies that is considered stand-offish or snobby. Quakers refuse to use these forms of address as they believe in total equality of all people. You are your name – full name or first name or “Friend” if they don’t know you at all.

Where I grew up in Cornwall we would rather have cut our tongues out than call people Sir or Madam. Where did they think they were, Harrods? So if we didn’t know their names we had a whole thesaurus of male and female “mate-names”. You all know m’love and m’hansum, but maybe didn’t know about my bird, my lil Jenny Wren, or Cocker (watch out for that one, it could mean they are spoiling for a fight, as in “Now see here, Cocker!”) None of these were offensive. If we knew your name we’d use it. We didn’t so we called you something friendly instead.

I’m still enough of a “luvvie” to call people darling a lot even though my acting days are well behind me. Thanks be! People are now used to it and so not surprised that, since my stroke, my memory not being very good for names but fantastic for faces, I resort to “Hello there, sweetie/ darling/ honeybunch” because I really can’t remember. I do this in French too. Ma biche, mon brave, ma grande, mon petit…just as I used to do in Cornwall.

It’s friendly. It may not strike some people as respectful, but then they are the sort of people I would address as Mr, Mrs or Ms – meaning their opinion doesn’t really count for much in my universe.

tongue out
Don’t care!


4 thoughts on “Respectfully Yours…

  1. Well said, Ailsa. That`s how it is in Germany too. You`ve got Sie (formal) and Du (informal). Atr school in the UK we were told to use Du for children, animals, and people we liked. Awww.. Sweet. Except nowadays it`s “Du Idiot” if you yell at a motorist cutting you, or “Sie Blödmann” when yelling at someone in authority. But the kids/animals/like rule has served me well here. And I tend to say Du to anyone younger then me anyway (that`s most of the population).

    1. We weren’t even taught the “tu” form at school because they assumed we’d never be that close to anyone. At first I used to say Peux-tu me rendre service, s’il VOUS plait? I didn’t know that s’il te plait existed!

  2. Where I live men often address each other as ‘cock’. Its not an insult. Its just what they say! I love colloquelisms (and apologies profusely for the spelling!)

    1. I’m just fascinated by language, which may be why I taught and studied it for so long. Dialect and regional expressions fascinate me – around here we have some “right belters” but i’ll save those for another post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.