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To Sir with Love -- Writer's Poke #211

Call me polite, but when I address a male who is my elder, I like to use the word “sir.”

Mr. John Hershberger would have none of my politeness. When I was a senior in high school, he was my Economics instructor. This was an “honors” level class, and I only mention that as a way of suggesting that the students in the class sometimes used their brains, and sometimes read a textbook, and sometimes did their homework assignments. In other words, we weren’t the typical mindless zombies that you might find in a basic Consumer Math class.

But at some point prior to my matriculation into this class, Mr. Hershberger decided that I was a sarcastic hooligan, and that my number one goal in life was to undermine his authority. He probably came to this dramatic conclusion after he substituted once for Mr. Parker, the chess coach. He saw how rowdy the chess team could get, and he knew I was the ringleader of that amazingly unpredictable and chaotic group.

So it should have come as no surprise when Mr. Hershberger asked me to follow him out into the hallway during one of our first Economics classes. “Mr. Fuller,” he said, “Please don’t call me ‘sir’ again. If you do, I’ll have to remove you from class.”

I couldn’t believe what this man was suggesting. What did he want me to call him? “Dude”? “Ace”? “Johnny?” Like a toddler that’s just discovered an electrical outlet, I had to test this man.

I continued to call him “sir” during class – in a very non-sarcastic way I should add – until it became quite clear that he’d follow through on his threat and throw me into study hall. Then I stopped addressing him as “sir,” and more sadly perhaps, I stopped thinking of him as being worthy of my respect.

Have you ever offended someone by being overly polite?

“The purpose of polite behavior is never virtuous. Deceit, surrender, and concealment: these are not virtues. The goal of the mannerly is comfort, per se.” – June Jordan


  1. I never met Mr. Hershberger so far as I can remember. He sounds like a very insecure young man. Maybe he was insecure about growing older, or maybe he thought he was to be a pal to his students.

    I had a "superior" once who always addressed people as "guy". I was not impressed.


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