Discussion Board

Topic: Ser versus sir

From: Nick Owens
Location: Champaign, IL
Date: 06/22/2010

Mr Bear,

I recently finished reading the Eon series, including Legacy. A detail that I missed in the books was the origins of 'Ser' as an honorific before names. Where did it come from? Why do the inhabitants of the Thistledown use it?

Thanks,
Nick Owens

Re: Ser versus sir

From: Kelly Marsh
Location: Everett, WA
Date: 07/23/2010

"Ser" would seem to be a genderless honorific. Which, of course probably seems obvious. (Like, "Well, duh!")

As to the origin, I have often wondered this myself. It apparently is not original, or at least is not unique to Greg's writings, and has also been picked up by a number of games and so on, which makes the researching of the term all the more difficult. As you may have discovered, Google it and you will find various fictional game languages, such as Matei.

In real life, however, it was used, for example, in medieval times, apparently as an alternate, or perhaps original (or at least fairly recent, etymologically speaking) spelling of the word "sir," However, in these cases, it was gender-specific. Ser Brunetto, in Dante's Inferno, for example.

The only examples I have been able to find within the bounds of admittedly cursory research in which it is not gender-specific is in a Micronesian dialect, in which case it appears to mean "His/Her," and is therefore more of a possessive than an honorific. Assume the Micronesian word for ball, and "Ball ser" would mean "His or her ball," with he or she apparently being implied in context. (Or simply by pointing. :P)

I'm certain with fairly exhaustive research I could arrive at a definitive answer. I could no doubt establish at least tenuous precedence, which would involve finding out how, for instance, Austronesian (which is an ancient language family, and of which Micronesian is a part) relates to Latin, and so on, but even then it might not match Greg's reason for using the term. He may, after all, have merely used it on a whim, and I think the most important thing to him was that it not be gender-specific to contemporary readers, if I am recalling the book accurately.

I would certainly be interested in Greg's explanation, as well, however. :)

Re: Ser versus sir

From: aculturemind
Location:
Date: 07/29/2010

I think it first occured in Brin's STARTIDE RISING. In any case, it's non-gender-specific, yo.

Re: Ser versus sir

From: Greg Bear
Date: 08/09/2010

Simple enough--genderless honorific, blurring his/her. Cool background check, though, Kelly!

Re: Ser versus sir

From: Sean M. Brooks
Location: Lawrence, MA
Date: 08/13/2010

Hi Mr. Marsh!

Interesting discussion re your comments on Greg Bear's use of "ser." I've nothing to add which bears (pun intended!) directly on "ser," tho. Intead, I was reminded of how, in the Terran Empire era of Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization stories, "Donna" was used as a polite honorific for women of respectable status. I would guess the Anglic "Sir" remained the equivalent honorific for males. But this use of "Sir" should not be confused with the knighthoods conferred on various persons--they would be addressed as "Sir Domininc Flandry," for example.

Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

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