What’s in an honorific?

blackboard_honorifics“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10 ESV).

The Bible teaches us to honor God and to honor one another. This is an expression of the kind of love that God both commands and instills. We cannot keep the command to love and honor one another without God’s empowerment. When we receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, this empowerment is available to us. The Church, as the Body of Christ, is to model this kind of love and mutual honor.

The Greek word translated “honor” in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is: τιμάω, timaó (tim-ah’-o), which means to fix the value, price, reverence, esteem, to honor. It means to pay people their due. We get the name “Timothy” from this Greek word (Τιμόθεος (Timotheos) meaning “honoring God”). The apostle Paul taught that we are to “outdo one another” in esteeming and honoring God and others.

One of the ways that the English speaking world has expressed mutual honor is through the use of polite language and appropriate “honorifics” when addressing others. However, in recent years this practice appears to be waning. What is an honorific? The dictionary defines it as:

hon•or•if•ic adj. 1. doing or conferring honor. 2. conveying honor, as a title or a grammatical form used in speaking to or about a superior, elder, etc. n. 3. (in certain languages, as Chinese and Japanese) a class of forms used to show respect, esp. in direct address. 4. a title or term of respect.

 Here is a list of English “honorifics” that we have traditionally used (You can probably think of others):

Common Titles:

    • Mr. (Mister) – for men, regardless of marital status.
    • Master – for young men and boys (I used to receive letters addressed “Master Gary Combs” when I was younger).
    • Ms. – for women, regardless of marital status.
    • Miss – for unmarried women.
    • Mrs. – for married women.

Formal Titles:

      • Sir – for men, a term of general respect.
      • Ma’am (Madam) – for women, a term of general respect.

Professional Titles:

      • Dr. (Doctor) – a person who has obtained an academic or professional degree.
      • Prof. (Professor) – a person teaching at the college level with a Ph.D. or equivalent.

Religious Titles:

    • Br. or Bro. (Brother) – for men generally in some churches (The Baptist church I grew up in used “Bro.” to address the pastor).
    • Sr. (Sister) – a Catholic nun; for women generally in some churches
    • Fr. (Father) for priests in Catholic and Eastern Christianity
    • Rev. (Reverend) used generally for members of the Christian clergy
    • Pr. (Pastor) used generally for Christian clergy, especially in Protestant denominations.
    • Preacher – used primarily in the South for Christian pastors.
    • Ev. (Evangelist) – used for a traveling revivalist preacher

People in the South seem to be among the last holdouts in the use of honorifics. They are especially well known for their use of “Yessir,”  “Yessum,” and “Ma’am” (Not to mention “Y’all,” “Hon,” “Shug,” and “Sweetie Pie.”). When I first moved to North Carolina I noticed that young people often called an older family friend by their first name, plus an appropriate honorific, as in “Mr. Bobby,” or Ms. Mary.” I loved this practice and we taught our kids to follow it.

I encourage the use of honorifics. I use them. I think it helps to put some of the honor back into our increasingly rough and disrespectful world. I appreciate being addressed as “Mr. Gary,” or “Mr. Combs” by a younger person. I feel respected when a church member calls me “Pastor Gary,” or “Preacher” (I don’t care much for the “Rev.” title, but that’s just me).

What do you think? Do you use honorifics? Do you teach your children to use them?

What’s in an honorific? Honor and respect, that’s what. And I think that’s a good thing.

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