Sir / Ma'am (military title)

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Fumiko Take, Jan 3, 2015.

  1. Fumiko Take

    Fumiko Take Senior Member

    It appears that we've already had a thread on this kind of subject. But what I'd like to know is that if we can ever choose "Sir" over "Ma'am" in real life contexts, if the use of "Sir" can ever work when addressing a female superior in the military. I've been watching Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood (of course the dub version) and it's strikingly weird that I've never heard "Ma'am" in it: like Major General Oliver Mira Armstrong is always addressed as "Sir".
  2. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    In the American military, you would never address a female officer as "Sir."
  3. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    English - US (Midwest)
    I haven't the faintest idea what that show is, but I can assure you that during my 21+ years in the navy I never once heard the word "Sir" used to address a female officer.
  4. Fumiko Take

    Fumiko Take Senior Member

    Thank you guys, that helps.
  5. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Dear Lord, no - it's always always always "ma'am." The only place I've ever heard female officers called "sir" is in futuristic fiction, e.g. Star Trek. But even there it's not universal. Apparently even some fictional female officers dislike being called "sir." :)
  6. Language Hound Senior Member

    American English
    I don't know where screenwriters are getting some of their ideas these days--certainly not from real life.
    In the American TV series Castle, all of the detectives (both male and female) address Captain Victoria Gates
    as "Sir." I am shocked each time I hear it.
  7. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    This tendency goes back at least to Captain Janeway in Star Trek - though there they have the excuse that they are writing the English of a future century. According to this Trekkie page She was primarily called "captain" but by protocol she was supposed to be called "sir."
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2015
  8. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    teddy, presumably reflecting the prejudices of the scriptwriters who couldn't imagine a woman commanding a ship in their lifetimes. That any navy or air force would have such a protocol is ludicrous.
  9. Glasguensis

    Glasguensis Signal Modulation

    English - Scotland
    More ludicrous than the notion that the entire human race would speak 20th century English? ;)

    Generally, forms of address are determined by the applicable military regulations. I believe that some authors/scriptwriters have imagined that it would be possible for female officers to choose from two alternatives, or for all officers to be addressed in the same way (either from political correctness or because the code had never been updated to account for female officers).
  10. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    The military of each English-speaking country can make its own rules, or have its own practices, in this regard. In the U.S. military, female officers are always addressed as ma'am, never as sir - as has already bee posted. However, I would not make a blanket statement that this necessarily applies to every English-speaking country on the planet, let alone to people using English in countries where it is not an official language. If someone wants to know about a specific country, one has to check that country. Telling you what the U.S. military does is of little value.
  11. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    Having been in pretty close contact with the military of every English-speaking nation, I can confidently assert that none calls female officers "Sir". I've also had contact with the military of very many non-English-speaking nations, and I never found any of them calling female officers "Sir" when speaking English. Given that Star Trek is written by Americans, I suggest what the American military does is likely to be of considerable relevance to the scripts of Star Trek. However, that is fiction and the question was
    so the answer remains an emphatic "no".

    PS. I must correct myself. I had minimal contact with the US Marine Corps - if that might be an exception I shall leave to those who may know better.
  12. Language Hound Senior Member

    American English
    I agree with Andy that the answer to the OP's question is "no."

    All of the instances cited in this thread of "Sir" being used to address a female
    are from fictional TV series and/or a film (Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Castle, Star Trek).
    I would be curious to know what the (original) Japanese word was that was translated as "Sir"
    in the dubbed version of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood.:rolleyes:
  13. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    True, but very early in the series (episode #1, I think), Janeway was very firm that she wanted to be called "Captain" or "ma'am." Apparently the writers or somebody was uncomfortable with this fictional protocol since they apparently didn't want to cope with years of "Yes, sir!" on Voyager. It would have annoyed me.
  14. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    Well, who knows. On Iceland they speak a 9th century North Germanic dialect. And by now English is spread all over this planet. So why shouldn't 20th century English be the language of the future (my main concern is which dialect it is going go be.)
  15. pob14 Senior Member

    Central Illinois
    American English
    In many games that I've played, the (fictional) underlings have addressed their superiors as "ser," which is pronounced as "sir," but which serves the purpose of not requiring the writers/translators to change parts of the game based on whether the protagonist is male or female. As far as I know, it's a made-up word.

    Calling a real-life female superior officer "sir," in the US at least, is (as others have said) a good way to get into a lot of trouble very quickly.
  16. Language Hound Senior Member

    American English
    How interesting! I don't play video games so this is news to me. I bet that might be what the characters in the OP's series are saying instead of "sir."

    After reading your post, I googled "Ser" and found, among other things, the following:
    In a Game of Thrones discussion about Ser vs. Sir:
    On Wiki's "Ser" page:
  17. Linkway Senior Member

    British English
    I totally agree with what has been said about the current real-world conventions in English usage of Sir/Ma'am.

    Equally, I find nothing odd about writers of futuristic fiction using "sir" for addressing both male and female officers.

    Two reasons: perhaps the writer deliberately chooses to be "challenging" to current conventions; and speculatively that that is the way things might head eventually in the real world.

    We have already seen a (partial) transition from Miss/Mrs to Ms; from he/she to they; from actress to actor; from conductress to conductor; and many more.

    In addition, many modern words are deliberately non-gender-specific, eg captain, pilot, teacher, doctor, driver, engineer, scientist, botanist, etc.

    Current real-world English finds nothing strange about using "you" for both males and females (and singular/plural) whereas in many other current real-world languages a suitable gender-specific word would have to be chosen.
  18. Linkway Senior Member

    British English
    That should be "Olivier" which is a woman's name, not "Oliver" which is normally male.
  19. Glasguensis

    Glasguensis Signal Modulation

    English - Scotland
    Olivier is the French version of Oliver and is also normally male.
  20. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    I'm inclined to question your use of 'modern' and 'deliberately'.
    Shakespeare, Macbeth
    Romeo and Juliet
    A Midsummer's Night Dream
    The use of 'they', 'them' and 'their' as non-gender-specific third person singular forms goes back several hundred years. It is far from being a modern shift in usage. This has been pointed out in previous threads.

    Of course the language may shift, but Ma'am is undoubtedly a term of respect in the uniformed services and it is difficult to see where any pressure for change might originate.
  21. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    For what it's worth, I note that that the given name of the 1930s-1940s English-American movie star Olivia de Havilland (real name) is frequently misspelled "Olivier."
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2015

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