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help me, obi-wan-ariadne1
I'm in the throes of a grammatical discussion on military_beta as to whether "sir" and "ma'am" are capitalized when they are not the first word of a sentence. I maintain that they are merely honorifics and should be treated like pronouns. My esteemed opponent, larianelensar, maintains that they are titles and therefore should always be capitalized. My counter-argument is that they are never used in conjunction with a name, and therefore cannot be titles.

Could you settle this for me, please?

i feel: tired tired

10 trips or shoot the rapids
liamstliam From: liamstliam Date: December 22nd, 2006 11:13 am (UTC) (base camp)
The only way to settle it is:

1. Choose a style book.

2. Default to Webster's English dictionary.

3. Determine whether the Army has a style (assuming you are writing for Army publication).
From: nutter4 Date: December 22nd, 2006 12:43 pm (UTC) (base camp)
Don't know about in American, but in English, Sir can be a title only if someone has received a knighthood (Sir Walter Raleigh, etc.) The only times I can think of where Madam might be a title is either "Madam Speaker" or "Madam Chairwoman", but I wouldn't swear that either is capitalised in the middle of a sentence.

I suspect confusion occurs because the common honorifics (Mr, Mrs, etc.) all take capitals, though as you point out, this is because they're capitalised along with a name. Compare the usage of 'mister' and 'lady' in "Oi, mister!" or "Say thank you to the nice lady".
ciorstan From: ciorstan Date: December 22nd, 2006 05:23 pm (UTC) (base camp)
The only time I've ever seen "Madam" capitalized within a sentence is when it refers to Queen Elizabeth.

If it's relevant, I read a lot of Georgette Heyer, and in the current editions (I have any number of 'release' dates of my copies, dating from the 60s to within the last few months) those honorifics are part of her characters' regular speech patterns. They're never capitalized unless at the beginning of a sentence.

And apparently there's a quiet little snark-fest going on between the Supreme Court justices (and you can see it in action if you read the opinion issued in Kansas v. Marsh), on whether it's proper usage to place an apostrophe s on a possessive name form that terminates with an s. Technically, it's correct usage to do so, as in characters's, which is what I should have used above. American customary usage omits the terminal s-- apparently it's Associated Press style which explicitly omits the "s" after the apostrophe in creating possessives of all singular proper names ending in "s"; I don't know if they have a specific rule for non-proper nouns.

*sigh* I have a mind stuffed full of really useful crap, obviously.
girlygothic From: girlygothic Date: December 22nd, 2006 01:22 pm (UTC) (base camp)
Well, I happen to be at my parents' house right now, where I can log into my mom's online account for the Chicago Manual of Style. It agrees with you, that they're not capitalized in the middle of sentences. (The only exception being at the beginning of a letter. e.g. "Dear Sir,")
misoranomegami From: misoranomegami Date: December 23rd, 2006 12:50 am (UTC) (base camp)
See that feels right to me though I'm not sure of the actual rules. I'm having a hard time imagining a situation where it would be in the middle on a sentance. I would tend to subsitute it for a different noun such as "the gentleman". Her Majesty is a rank without a name attached but she's the queen so she probaby got special grammar rules.
30toseoul From: 30toseoul Date: December 22nd, 2006 02:30 pm (UTC) (base camp)
I don't capitalize them (unless first word of sentence) because it doesn't look right to me. I never thought of them as "titles" and I don't think military regulations do either, do they? They're just acknowledgements of respect. The rank is the title.
tashabear From: tashabear Date: December 22nd, 2006 07:22 pm (UTC) (base camp)
When you're writing official correspondence, sir and ma'am are not used. It's very much "just the facts", and addressed not to a person (except for orders), but to the person doing a specific job. So instead of addressing a letter to CPT Dooley, Assistant S-4, 3/313th TSBn, it's just Assistant S-4, 3/13th TSBn. Whoever is filling that job gets the letter.

We rarely use dead tree correspondence anymore, though, and again, you rarely use it in email, except as the lead.

I'm with you -- the rank is the title.
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: December 23rd, 2006 04:19 am (UTC) (base camp)
"My esteemed opponent, larian, maintains that they are titles and therefore should always be capitalized."

You're just being mean (which I applaud, by the way.) You're right and you know it!

I bet your esteemed opponent isn't an old Army gal...
tashabear From: tashabear Date: December 23rd, 2006 05:03 pm (UTC) (base camp)
Right or not, it's not an acrimonious discusion, so there's no reason not to be nice about the whole thing.
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: December 25th, 2006 06:26 pm (UTC) (base camp)
Sorry, ma'am. I will go spin a skein of scratchy wool (on a large, crude, low-whorl spindle!) as penance.
10 trips or shoot the rapids