Master (form of address)

Master (sometimes abbreviated Mstr) is an archaic masculine title or form of address in English.


In English and Welsh society

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 to 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. Master is used sometimes to describe the male head of a large estate or household who employs many domestic workers.

After its replacement in common speech by Mister, Master was retained as a form of address for boys or young men. By the late 19th century, etiquette dictated that men be addressed as Mister, boys under 13 years old be addressed as Master, and from 13 to the age of maturity males not be accorded courtesy titles. However, in more recent times it is not uncommon for secondary school boys (and sometimes older primary school boys, but not, typically, younger) to be addressed as Mister, though some etiquette writers hold that the title Mr should not be used until the boy has left school. The title Master is much less frequently used than formerly, though it is sometimes still used as the written form of address for boys below some undefined age, often regarded as about 13 in formal correspondence, particularly invitations to formal events, however, by the end of the 20th century, the age is widely regarded to be 18, and anything below would be considered improper to refer to as 'mister'.[1][verification needed]

In Scottish society

The heir to a Scottish lordship, barony or viscountcy is given the style or dignity[2] Master of followed by his father's title. For instance, the heir of Lord Elphinstone is known as the Master of Elphinstone; The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson is about the ignoble heir to a noble house.

Master is also commonly used to refer to males under 16 years (the legal age of maturity in Scotland). The Bank of Scotland uses Master until 16, when Mr is adopted. There is no female equivalent (Miss being used unless Ms is preferred before, or sometimes after, marriage).

In Canada

It was formerly common (in Anglophone Canada) for the English usage of master to be followed for boys, when addressing letters or in formal address, but use of the title Master has now largely ceased, outside of highly formal situations (such as for weddings and wedding invitations).

In French-speaking areas of Canada, such as Québec and New-Brunswick, maître is used for the law professions, as in France (see below).

In France

In France, maître is the correct form of address for law professions such as attorneys and notaries, whether they hold a bachelor's, a master's, or a doctor's degree. It is used only in professional settings. The abbreviated form is Me.

In the United States

The use of Master as a form of address is rare, and is now used only for young boys in highly formal situations, such as for formal invitations. The age at which the transition from master to mister takes place is not strictly observed, though approximately 13, or the beginning of high school for those who still observe the distinction.

From Master derived the Eye dialect spelling Massa, representing African American Vernacular English. It is now associated with slavery,[3] since in the post-colonial U.S. it was the common form of address for slaves to refer to their owners, or any white males in general.

In institutions

Some academic institutions, notably colleges within universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and Durham, have a post of Master, generally being the head of the institution. In formal address it can be customary to address such persons as Master, for example at the beginning of a speech: Master, President, Senior Members, ladies and gentlemen:.

Within the four Inns of Court, the governing bodies are formed by the Masters of the Bench, all of whom will be addressed by as, for example, Master Bloggs, notwithstanding that they may be Mr Bloggs QC, Lord Bloggs or Judge Bloggs at work or in outside life. There is also a category of junior judges, the High Court Masters, who are properly addressed as Master. In all these cases, the title Master is applied to women as well as men.

In Canada, judicial officers (deputy judges) called Masters may be appointed to the Superior Court of a province, and are generally appointed to courthouses located in larger cities. Masters may adjudicate interim matters in court cases and are formally addressed as "Master" or "Sir"/"Madam".

The head of almost every London Livery Company is the Master, and addressed as such.

The head of a Masonic Lodge is the Master, and addressed as Worshipful Master (not to be confused with the degree of Master Mason, which is not a form of address.)

Some American college preparatory schools refer to their instructors as Masters, based on the British model, which echoes the medieval title "magister" (master) for university professors. The head of a school is sometimes referred to as the headmaster.

Officers serving in command of merchant vessels are formally known as the Master of the vessel. They are qualified by holding a Master Mariner's licence.

In martial arts

There are two distinct and disparate uses of this term in martial arts: functional and honorific.

Functionally, the founder or current head of a school of martial art may, technically, be referred to as "Master (name)." This use does not connote proficiency, but only local authority and deference. Also, although it rarely occurs in English-speaking cultures, a student and teacher may enter into a formal master-disciple relationship, in which case it would be appropriate for the disciple to address his or her teacher as Master.

Honorifically, one may be accorded this title by the lineage holder or an authorized council of a martial tradition. This use does connote proficiency and trustworthiness. Such recognition usually comes in the form of an official certificate or letter of recognition, such as the Japanese Shihan Certificate[4]. Sometimes grandmaster is used as well or instead.

Other uses in society

In some educational systems (e.g. British), male schoolteachers were or are often referred to as masters, in addition to the usual forms of the headmaster, second master, and, in a few schools, the high master.[5] In the United Kingdom, the term is still used in many independent schools, but almost never in state schools.

A tradesman who has qualified on completion of his apprenticeship may be described as a Master Plumber, Master Baker, etc., although that is not a form of address. The term is generally used to refer to an artisan considered to be at the top of their craft.

It is sometimes appropriate to refer to an adult as “master” on account of his marital status or age relative to the person using the address. This is occasionally used as a petty insult.

The term "Master" can also be used in BDSM relationships by submissive or slave partners, primarily to denote respect and the dominant partner's higher status in the relationship. While it is usually applied to men, some women also adopt the title in lieu of a specifically female form of address.

In fiction

In fiction, master is often used to indicate a teacher/pupil relationship or for higher-ranking persons than the speaker.

Master Harold...and the Boys, a 1982 play written by Athol Fugard, demonstrates the use of "Master" to denote the social structure of South Africa under apartheid.

In the Batman comics and films, the main (adult) character: Bruce Wayne is referred to as 'Master Bruce' by Alfred his Butler and others.

See also


  1. ^ Correspondence Manual[dead link]
  2. ^ 2nd edition (1953) of Valentine Heywood's "British Titles" pp103-108
  3. ^ Entry massa in Wiktionary, retrieved September 28, 2010
  4. ^ <YouTube video>
  5. ^ Lancaster Royal Grammar School list of staff referring to head, second and third mastersList of staff at King Edwards School, entitled a "List of Masters"

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