“Sir” and “madam” are shorter versions of what older, fancier terms?

Let’s say you want to get the attention of a male clerk in the produce section of the grocery store. Would you say, “Excuse me sire, but could you please explain the difference between a yam and a sweet potato?”

(For the answer to that question, read this.)

Addressing a stranger as “sire” might raise an eyebrow. But if you said it, you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong.

The word “sir,” which is a respectful term used to address a man, derives from the word “sire.” When written with a capital “S,” it is used as the distinctive title of a knight or baronet.

The word “sire” is now considered archaic. But it was once used to refer to an authority or a person of general importance.

The history of the word “madam” is similar to “sir.” The word derives from “my dame.” While the word “dame” is now usually considered offensive slang, it was once used to address a married woman or one in a position of authority. The traditional term of address for a single woman is “Miss.” The story of Miss, Mrs., and Ms. deserves its own blog post.

The origin of dame is the Latin domina, which is the feminine form of dominus, meaning “lord or master.”

If you enjoy the uncommon history of common words, you’ll love the meaning behind “gosh,” “golly,” and “gee.” Learn their quite serious background, here.