Wednesday, September 28, 2016

to sir with love

Just a quick follow-up to the previous post: one of the things that always grates a bit about American sports coverage is the weird ultra-reverence they have for retired sports stars, Arnold Palmer being a good example. I suppose it's what Americans have instead of the grovelling servility towards the royal family that (some) Brits have. So you have the weird phenomenon of grown men referring to slightly older grown men as "Mr Palmer", for instance at the conclusion of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament, where the winning golfer would be granted a brief regal handshake and an audience with the great man and would respectfully refer to him as "Mr Palmer" in the subsequent TV interview. Once again I should make clear that this isn't meant as a criticism of Palmer personally; his great rival Jack Nicklaus fulfils a similar role at the Memorial Tournament, for instance.

To a large extent this is an American cultural thing unconnected with sports; for instance I noticed it on the Today programme yesterday when Sarah Montague was interviewing Mike Williams, one of the last people to get off the Deepwater Horizon oil-rig alive when it caught fire after a blowout in 2010. Williams was on the programme to talk about the new film (called, imaginatively, Deepwater Horizon) which dramatises the real-life events and in which Williams is portrayed by Mark Wahlberg. Many of Williams' answers were prefixed with "yes, ma'am" or "no, ma'am", a usage which seems quaintly archaic to British ears, unless you happen to be talking to the Queen, but which is still pretty common (with "sir" substituted for "ma'am" as appropriate) in America, with its use (I theorise) being heavily influenced by region, age and social class. My contention is that Southerners like Williams would tend to do it much more than, say, cynical and abrasive New Yorkers. Furthermore I can't imagine many male Brits who would expect their children's friends to address them as "sir", but I'm pretty sure there are parts of the USA where this usage would still be commonplace.

1 comment:

Dave Donaghy said...

Working with Americans regularly, I do hear them use "Sir" quite a lot - certainly much more than I would (which is literally (*) never), and it kind of feels okay; I don't know if I'm used to it from hearing them lots, or from hearing it on American TV, or something else.

I'd be intrigued to hear what it sounds like thrown into English conversation in groups of similar relative social standings.

(*) I stand corrected - I do use "Sir" sometimes, but ... well, you know - time and a place, and all that.