Can one ever be too courteous?

When you see the character , you’re apt to associate it with 命令 (mìnglìng), which means a command or an order. In fact, has a number of other meanings, one of which is “excellent”.

(zūn) means respect, respectable, or a senior. 令尊 (lìng zūn your venerable father) is a polite way of referring to the father of the person you are talking or writing to. 令堂 ((lìng táng) means “your venerable mother”.

Similarly, 令夫人 (lìng fūren) is “your respected wife”, 令嫒 (lìng ài) is “your excellent daughter”, 令公子 (lìng gōngzǐ) is “your excellent son”, and
贵公子 (guì gōngzǐ) is “your noble son”.

姓名 (xìngmíng) is one’s full name. Following are a couple of polite ways to ask for one’s name:

Qǐngwèn zūn xìng dà míng?
May I ask what your name is?

Nín guì xìng?
What’s your surname, please?

The essence of showing politeness is to relinquish superiority to those you wish to please. 先生 (xiānsheng) literally translates to “one born ahead (of me)”. This is the title conferred to teachers, gentlemen and doctors.

大师 (dàshī) means great master. It is also a title used to address a Buddhist monk.
仁兄 (rénxiōng) literally translates to “my kind elder brother”. It means “my dear friend” or “this gentleman” in everyday speech.

You know that 大哥 (dàgē) means eldest brother. It is also a polite way for a man to address another man in his age group. On the other hand, the man would refer to himself as 小弟 (xiǎo dì) even though they are not related.

In “The Butterfly Lovers”, 粱山伯 (Liáng Shānbó), was somewhat older than 祝英台 (Zhù Yīngtái). Therefore, he referred to himself as 愚兄 (yú xiōng), which means foolish elder brother, while he addressed 祝英台 (Zhù Yīngtái) as 贤弟 (xián dì), or virtuous younger brother.

敝人 (bìrén shabby me) and 在下 (zàixià lowly me) are old ways of referring to oneself. You’ve probably heard these terms in historical movies.

If you want to stay neutral, then simply refer to yourself as (wǒ I, me) or 本人 (běnrén I, me, myself).

作品 (zuòpǐn) are works of art or literature. When talking about someone else’s work, you want to say “your great work”, or 大作 (dà zuò). You could also refer to it as 佳作 (jiāzuò), or fine piece of work. As for your own work, you’d want to refer to it as 拙作 (zhuōzuò), or dull, awful work

意见 (yìjiàn) is an idea, point of view, opinion or suggestion. Your brilliant idea is 高见 (gāojiàn), while my humble opinion is 拙见 (zhuōjiàn).

To express that someone’s words of wisdom are much treasured like gold and jade, you can refer to them as 金玉良言 (jīnyù liáng yán).

府上 (fǔshang) means “your respected home” or “your respected family”. On the other hand, 寒舍 (hán shè cold shed) is how you would refer to your own abode.

The polite way to refer to your guests is: 贵宾 (guìbīn), or distinguished guests. To ask the guests to honor you with their presence, you would write on the invitation:

Jìng qǐng guānglín.
We respectfully request your magnificent presence.

Always remember to say (qǐng please) and 谢谢 (xièxiè Thanks!) when making a request. When someone thanks you for a favor received, respond with 不谢 (bùxiè No need to thank me. Don’t mention it.) or 不客气 (bùkèqi You’re welcome. No need to be courteous.).


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