Why do some peo­ple get called “Ah Sir”? What does it re­ally mean?

– Sir Cu­ri­ous

HK Magazine - - HOME - Dear Mr. Know-It-All,

The Can­tonese phrase “ah sir” (or 阿Sir) is a uniquely Hong Kong form of ad­dress, a term of weirdly col­lo­quial re­spect.

On the face of it, it’s a straight­for­ward loan word from English. Just like the dik si, see dor and baa si— taxi, store and bus—“ah sir” comes straight from English, the word

阿 in­di­cat­ing you’re nam­ing some­one and “sir” be­ing the hon­orific term. It’s also more rarely writ­ten ah seh (阿蛇), es­sen­tially—“Mr. Snake.”

But there’s a lit­tle more to it than that. Any old knight isn’t just “ah sir.” In fact, there are spe­cific pa­ram­e­ters which gov­ern when some­one’s an “ah sir” and when not. Most of­ten, it breaks down into two sim­ple cat­e­gories: po­lice­men and teach­ers.

All (male) teach­ers are “ah sir” as a mat­ter of re­spect. (Fe­male teach­ers tend to be “miss,” pro­nounced “miss-see”) If you wish to re­fer to a teacher by name, then it’s last-name­sir: So if Mr. Chan teaches you cal­cu­lus, then to you he is Chan Sir. This ap­plies to all teach­ers—un­less, of course, you’re suf­fi­ciently fa­mous or good at brand­ing. Take su­per tu­tor Ken Ng, founder of tu­to­rial cen­ter Mod­ern Ed­u­ca­tion—he’s known through­out Hong Kong not as “Ng Sir,” but as “Ken Sir.”

For cop­pers, it’s slightly dif­fer­ent. If you, a mem­ber of the pub­lic, needed the help of a po­lice­man on the street, you’d go ahead and call him “ah sir”—or you’d be wise to, if you wanted his as­sis­tance. These cops in turn would re­serve their “ah sirs” for their rank­ing of­fi­cers. An ex­am­ple is Chief Su­per­in­ten­dent Steve Hui Chun-tak, who made tele­vised brief­ings every day at 4pm dur­ing the Oc­cupy protests. The pub­lic liked his can­dor—and a few of his catch­phrases— and so he be­came uni­ver­sally known as “Four o’Clock Hui Sir.”

It can get more com­pli­cated than that, though. Take 2011 TVB se­ries “Yes Sir. Sorry, Sir!” The plot con­cerns an ex-teacher who be­comes a cop—and is then sent un­der­cover back into the school he used to teach in. In Chi­nese, the show is called “點解阿Sir係阿Sir,” or “Why is ah sir ah sir?” A pun? An ex­is­ten­tial ques­tion? Or both?

My fa­vorite “ah sir” mo­ment is the glo­ri­ously ridicu­lous scene in the 2002 Miriam Ye­ung flick “Love Un­der­cover,” in which the bum­bling su­per­in­ten­dent Chung Sir is un­der­cover while meet­ing a triad boss, when his phone rings. He an­swers: “Chung Sir speak­ing.” Alarmed, the triad boss asks why he’s call­ing him­self Chung Sir—a ti­tle used by cops. Chung Sir halt­ingly replies that his full name is ac­tu­ally “Fong Chungsir,” so to his close friends he’s just “Chung-sir.”

The triad boss won­ders: Then how do you write the Chi­nese char­ac­ter “sir”? The po­lice­man grabs a notepad and of­fers up the fol­low­ing scrawl, com­bin­ing English let­ters and Chi­nese char­ac­ters into a whole new, ridicu­lous word:

It’s a clas­sic Hong Kong film gag that per­fe­cly sums up the city: English, Chi­nese and very, very silly.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.