I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with honorifics.
Maybe it’s my inner slave, maybe it’s my inner linguistics nerd, but I have.
Both of my parents actively disliked them. If a cashier called my dad sir, he was known to say, “Nah, it’s man, bro, or dude.” (And while a fairly masculine guy, he always had long hair, so he got called ma’am by plenty of people who only got a split second glance.) My mom just said it made her feel old but other than assuring excessive users that it wasn’t necessary, didn’t protest. In any case, it didn’t come from my family.
I therefore called adults sir or ma’am sparingly, feeling awkward if I wasn’t sure if they held the same opinions as my parents, or on the other end of the spectrum, were going to be offended if I didn’t. I must admit I got some kind of kick out of using the honorifics, though.
In eighth grade, I had just started at a new school and chosen to be an office aide during my elective period. It was a busier and sometimes more chaotic role than I think I’d initially pictured, but it was a blast.
It was the second, maybe third week of school, and I’d just finished running some errands around the campus for one of the office administrators, of the sort whose official title no one’s ever sure of, but they sure do seem to cover a lot of areas.
I returned to his office to confirm, “Anything else I can do for you, sir?”
And he gave me this blank, jaw-half-open stare.
I just kind of stared back at him. Had I forgotten some obvious other task he’d already assigned or something?
“Did you just call me sir?” he asked, sounding incredulous.
“… Yes…” I said, the ‘s’ a little too drawn out as I tried to decide if saying sir again was a good idea, deciding against it.
“I’ve worked at this school for twenty-five years and no one has ever called me sir. That’s amazing.” He seemed to snap out of his daze a bit. “No, I don’t need anything else, thank you.”
“You’re welcome, sir.” He smiled and I left.
Twenty-five years. Don’t get me wrong, based on my experience with the sort of kids at that school, I believed it. Still, it really went to show how that tiny gesture of respect made a huge difference to him.
So when I found honorifics and titles as a thing in kink, it tugged at me.
Mistress and I had talked about it very early on; she wanted to know my thoughts. I determined that in my mind, Miss felt too diminutive to be my go-to for her. Ma’am was fine, but very generic, something I could call many people by. Mistress felt appropriately respectful, more personalized, and clearly had heavier M/s connotations. She agreed. That’s the title and honorific we went with, because it works for us. Here meaning I use it both to refer to her, “(My) Mistress and I went to the store,” and to address her, “Yes, Mistress.”
In kink, of course, many people have thoughts on honorifics and titles in all kinds of directions. But as said, my fascination with them started before I even had the right words for the feelings I would later know were a desire for slavery.
I think because even in the vanilla world, they do hold importance to many. Almost funny how easily they set a tone, how one use of sir could endear a school administrator and one use of ma’am could have my mom wondering at her age.
As a writer, I latched onto that importance when I wrote fiction. At first it was vanilla contexts in which I wrote honorific usage. As a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I thought about how they transcended times or universes. Their usage in military and government settings amongst dystopian societies’ revolutions and wars; their usage in the office workplace of a grim future, with all kinds of power games being played on many orders of magnitude. In my first venture into BDSM fiction, they were a reflection of everything from perspectives on the dynamic, to the desire or lack thereof to fit them into a vanilla environment, to preferences for gendered or non-gendered titles, to poly or monogamy and who was permitted to call who what.
How telling they were. One word could flip a reader’s perception when introducing a relationship between characters; in the right context, a certain usage of them could be enough to tell you who was speaking without dialogue tags; usage spread amongst characters could quickly indicate a more formal setting.
So when I found kink in the real world, my grasp of how telling, along with important, they could be came with me.
They seem fairly simple, but can be such a key thing in a dynamic. I suppose my fascination has not faded.