Master (form of address)
Master is an English honorific for boys and young men.
Origin of the term
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Master was used in England for men of some rank, especially "free masters" of a trade guild and by any manual worker or servant employee addressing his employer (his master), but also generally by those lower in status to gentlemen, priests, or scholars. In the Elizabethan period, it was used between equals, especially to a group ("My masters"), mainly by urban artisans and tradespeople. It was later extended to all respectable men and was the forerunner of Mister.
After its replacement in common speech by Mister, Master was retained as a form of address only for boys who have not yet entered society. By the late 19th century, etiquette dictated that men be addressed as Mister, and boys as Master.
Current usage in UK
The use of Master as a prefixed title was, according to Leslie Dunkling, "until recently ... a way of addressing politely a boy who was too young to be called 'Mister'." It was used as a title for the eldest son only; younger sons had no form of address.
Master is used sometimes, especially up to circa late-19th century, especially in the UK to describe the male head of a large estate or household who employs domestic workers.
The heir to a Scottish lordship, barony or viscountcy is given the style or dignity Master of followed by his father's title. For instance, the heir of Lord Elphinstone is known as the Master of Elphinstone.
Current usage in USA
Nancy Tuckerman of the Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette writes that in the USA, unlike the UK, a boy can be addressed as master only until age 12, then is addressed only by his name with no title until he turns 18, when he takes the title of Mr.,:662 although it is not improper to use Mr. if he is slightly younger. In former times enslaved African-American addressed their oppressors as master as a term reflective of their forced and unpaid labor. Some of the enslaved Africans would often pronounce it in a colloquial dialect as "massa".:295 Robert Hickey, deputy director of the Protocol School of Washington, states that "use of Master [as] an honorific when addressing boys is considered old fashioned outside of conservative circles."
- Leslie Dunkling, Dictionary of Epithets and Terms of Address (2012).
- 2nd edition (1953) of Valentine Heywood's "British Titles" pp103–108
- Nancy Dunnan & Nancy Tuckerman, The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette (50th Anniversary ed.) (1995).
- How to Address Children.