“Sir” And “Madam” Are Shorter Versions Of What Words? 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. Is sire the same as sir? 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. Where does madam come from? The history of the word madam is similar to sir. The word derives from my dame. The word dame is now usually considered offensive slang (some dame with a dog just ran by and knocked me over). However, 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 Mr., Miss, Mrs., and Ms. is also worth a read!) The origin of dame is the Latin domina, which is the feminine form of dominus, meaning “lord or master.” Be the master of your own lexical domain by introducing (or re-introducing) these words and their respectful meanings back into your daily vocabulary, if you so please. 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.