Sir - Use in Disciplined Services

Use in Disciplined Services

The common use of Sir instead of the rank specific address for a senior officer in a military, police or other hierarchical organisation is rather specific to English and, in some instances, French (Canada). In most languages, no such general address is considered respectful, or the two are combined, as in German Herr followed by the rank.

It is common in British tabloid newspaper slang as a shorthand for 'schoolteacher': Sir's sex shame. Usage of "sir" commonly appears in schools in portions of the Southern United States.

When addressing a male superior (e.g. Officer or Warrant Officer, but not usually a non-commissioned officer, in the military), "sir" is used as a short form of address. (Despite its use in many fictional works, this is not a term used for female superiors, who are addressed as "ma'am"). However, recruits of the United States Marine Corps and United States Coast Guard address both male commissioned and non-commissioned officers as "sir" in basic training, especially drill instructors (USMC) and company commanders (USCG). Enlisted members of the United States Military always address Commissioned Officers as "sir". During training "sir" is implied and will be replaced by the rank and grade of those addressed after initial indoctrination.

It is worth noting that in the United States Air Force, all individuals may be addressed as "sir" (or ma'am in the case of females) regardless of rank. This includes drill instructors addressing recruits in basic training, a show of mutual respect which runs counter to the typical understanding of military indoctrination.

Possibly the shortness of the word helps explain another idiomatic but non-official practice in American English: emphatically saying Sir both before and after an obedient response to the senior, especially during drill, e.g., "Sir, yes, sir!" This is practiced by the US Coast Guard recruits. In both the United States Army and British Armed Forces, addressing an NCO as "Sir" is incorrect. In the British Army, however, an NCO is referred to as "sir" when he is on parade if an officer is present, as the NCO is deemed to be acting under the officer's authority, and warrant officers are addressed as "Sir."

In the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, only commissioned officers are addressed as "sir"; NCOs and constables are addressed by their rank.

Male British police officers of the rank of Inspector or above are addressed as "Sir" (women of inspecting rank are called Ma'am). The more familiar form of address of "Boss" or "Guv" (short for "governor") are used, regardless of the gender of the officer of inspecting rank. "Gaffer" is largely an invention of popular TV and cinema or no longer commonly used.

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