AskDefine | Define honorifics

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  1. Plural of honorific

Extensive Definition

An honorific is a word or expression that conveys esteem or respect when used in addressing or referring to a person. "Honorific" may refer broadly to the style of language or particular words or grammatical markings used in this way, including words used to express honor to one perceived as a social superior. Sometimes the term is used not quite correctly to refer to a title of honor (honorary title).
Non-honorific forms, that is forms which explicitly avoid being honorific, are often called familiar forms. Thus Sie is 'you honorific' in German, while du is 'you familiar'. Modern English you, in contrast, is neither honorific nor familiar, since it can be used in both ways.
Typically honorifics are used for second and third persons; use for first person is less common. Some languages have anti-honorific or despective first person forms (meaning something like "your most humble servant" or "this unworthy person") whose effect is to enhance the relative honor accorded a second or third person.

Modern English honorifics

The most common honorifics in modern English are usually placed immediately before the name of the subject. Honorifics which can be used of any adult of the approriate sex include "Mr.", "Mrs." and "Ms.". Other honorifics denote the honored person’s occupation, for instance "Doctor", "Coach", "Father" (for a priest), or "Professor". Abbreviations of academic degrees, used after a person's name, may also be seen as a kind of honorific (e.g. "Jane Doe, Ph.D.")
Some honorifics act as complete replacements for a name, as "sir" or "ma'am", or "your honor". Subordinates will often use honorifics as punctuation before asking a superior a question or after responding to an order: "Yes, sir" or even "Sir, yes sir."
These honorifics are usually limited to formal situations, or when children address adults.
A judge is addressed as "your honor" and may be referred to as "his honor" or "her honor"; the plural form would be "your honors". Similarly royalty are addressed or referred to as "your majesty", "his majesty", "her majesty", "their majesties", etc. Verbs with these honorifics as subject are conjugated as third person (e.g. "you are going" vs. "your honor is going" or "your honors are going".)
The modern English second person singular form you with its uninflected verbs (e.g. you go) came from plural forms (ye for subjects and you for objects) which were used for singular as an honorific. Thus thou goest meant 'you (non-honorific) go', and 'you go' meant 'you (honorific) go'. Ironically, forms with "thou" and "thee", originally familiar rather than honorific, are now felt by many to be honorific.

Honorifics in other languages and cultures

Ancient Rome had Roman honorifics like that of Augustus which turned into titles over time.
Many European languages (e.g. Spanish as described below) exhibit a split between non-honorific second person forms and honorific ones. This is sometimes referred to as a 'T-V distinction', because the familiar formas are often based on Latin tu ('you sg.', later 'you familiar') or its cognates, while the honorific forms are often based on Latin vos ('you pl.', later 'you honorific'). Many examples are listed and discussed briefly in the article on T-V distinctions.
Most varieties of Spanish distinguish between a set of familiar 2nd person pronouns and verbal endings (e.g. tú sabes or in some places vos sabés 'you singular know'; in some places vosotros sabéis 'you plural know') and honorific ones (usted sabe 'you singular honorific know'; ustedes saben 'you plural (honorific) know'.) Usted is a contracted form of vuestra merced 'your mercy', and, much like the English your honor, consistently takes 3rd-person verbal forms even though it designates a 2nd person. Spanish also has a number of forms that may be used with or as substitutes for names, such as señor 'Mr., Sir, gentleman', señora 'Mrs., Lady, ma'am, lady', señorita 'Miss, young lady', licenciado 'person with a bachelor's degree', maestro 'teacher, master mechanic, person with a master's degree', doctor 'doctor', etc.
Italian honorifics are usually limited to formal situations.
Turkish honorifics generally follow the first name, especially if they refer to gender or particular social statuses (e.g. Name Bey (Mr.), Name Hanım (Ms.), Name Hoca (teacher or cleric)). Such honorifics are used both in formal and informal situations. A newer honorific is "Sayın", which precedes the surname or full name, and is not gender-specific. (e.g. Sayın Name Surname, or Sayın Surname). They are generally used in very formal situations.
Indian honorifics abound, covering formal and informal relationships for social, commercial, spiritual and generational links. Honorifics may be prefix, suffix or replacement types. There are many variations across India. In Gujarati, for an uncle who is your mother's brother the replacement honorific "maama" (long "a" then short "a") is used and a male friend will often earn the suffix honorific of "bhai".
  • The traditional Hindi honorific is the suffix -ji. For example M.K. Gandhi (The Mahatma) was often referred to as Gandhi-ji.
  • The traditional Telugu honorific is the suffix Garu. Thus the Dalai Lama would be Dalai Lama Garu.
Chinese honorifics during the ancient and imperial periods varied greatly based on one's social status, but after 1920, most of these distinctions had dropped out of colloquial use.
Korean honorifics vary according to social distinction. The Korean language also distinguishes social differences with special noun and verb endings. The relationship between a speaker or writer and his or her subject and audience is paramount in Korean, and the grammar reflects this. The relationship between speaker/writer and subject is reflected in honorifics, while that between speaker/writer and audience is reflected in speech level.
Japanese honorifics are similar to English titles like "Mister" and "Miss"; but in Japanese, which has many honorifics, their use is mandatory in many formal and informal social situations. Japanese grammar as a whole tends to function on hierarchy—honorific stems are appended to verbs and some nouns, and in many cases one word may be exchanged for another word entirely with the same verb- or noun-meaning, but with different honorific connotations. The Japanese personal pronouns are a good example of the honorific hierarchy of the Japanese language—there are five or more words that correspond to each of the English words, "I" and "you".
Malay honorifics are the Malay language's complex system of titles and honorifics which is still extensively used in Malaysia and Brunei. Singapore, whose Malay royalty was abolished by the British colonial government in 1891, has adopted civic titles for its leaders.
Vietnamese honorifics are very similar to Japanese honorifics in their use. Like its Japanese counterparts, Vietnamese honorifics function on hierarchy of social and familial status. And, again similarly, both systems have several terms for "I" and "you". However, there is a striking difference between the Vietnamese honorific system and other systems, in addressing certain family members: For example, suppose your first cousin once removed (son or daughter of your cousin) is older than you. Despite being of greater age, your first cousin once removed would (formally) have to address you as "Anh (your first name)" or just "anh", if the addressed is male, and "Chi (your name)" or just "chi", if the addressed is female. Both terms on their own mean "my elder". Such a situation is an example of how hierarchy in the family takes precedence even over age.
Filipino Honorifics etiology and usage is variable. They are most widely deployed in the eponymous national language of the Philippines (which is based almost entirely on Tagalog). One system of honorifics evolved from Chinese terminology. Some of the terms used in this system are: kuya ("1st son"), até ("1st daughter"), diko ("2nd son"), ditsé ("2nd daughter"), sangko ("3rd son"), and sansé ("3rd daughter".) Kuya and Até are more generally used for anyone who is older or higher in station (although specifically someone is who is not very much older or higher in station.) In other languages such as Cebuano and Ilocano, the system of honorifics is less hierarchical, and elders of any station are denoted by the term manang (feminine) or manong (masculine), which are derived from the Spanish words hermana and hermano. Honorific plural forms of personal pronouns are also used when directly addressing superiors and elders, for example, in Filipino (Tagalog), kayó (instead of ka, the absolutive form of "you"), ninyó (instead of mo, the ergative form of "you"), and inyó (instead of iyó, the oblique form of "you".) Peculiar to Filipino (Tagalog), and not present in Cebuano and Ilocano, are the particles po (more formal) and hô (less formal), which are used in conjunction with the honorific personal pronouns. Finally, the titles Ginoong "Mr.", Ginang "Mrs.", and Binibini "Miss" are sometimes used, typically in very formal settings.
Some varieties of Nahuatl have extensive honorific systems. For instance, in Tetelcingo Nahuatl every 2nd or 3rd person verb, pronoun, postposition or possessed noun must be marked honorifically if its subject or object, designatum, object or possessor (respectively) is a living adult (other than the speaker's wife or adult child). Extra-honorific forms of several kinds exist for addressing or referring to especially honored persons including Deity. A typical Nahuatl honorific verbal construction involves a reflexive causative or applicative; e.g. Tetelcingo ti-niech-neki (you-me-want) 'you familiar love me' vs. ti-niech-mo-neki-tia (you-me-refl-want-caus) 'you honorific love me', literally 'you cause yourself to want me', or ti-niech-ijta (you-me-see) 'you familiar see me' vs. ti-niech-mo-jti-lia (you-me-refl-see-applic) 'you honorific see me', literally 'you see me for your own sake'.


People who have a strong sense of egalitarianism, such as Quakers and certain socialists, eschew honorifics. When addressing or referring to someone, they will use the person's name, an informal pronoun, or some other style implying social equality, such as "brother", "friend", or "comrade".
honorifics in Danish: Des
honorifics in German: Höflichkeitsform
honorifics in Esperanto: Formala parolmaniero
honorifics in Korean: 전하 (호칭)
honorifics in Italian: Allocuzione
honorifics in Japanese: 敬称
honorifics in Russian: Гоноратив
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