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君 means ruler, お前 honourable one towards me, 貴様 worthy appearance.

How did these originally honorific terms of address become informal or even insulting?

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  • Is [君]{きみ} (assuming that's what we are talking about rather than ~君 [the 呼び])always marked as informal or insulting? My sense is no.
    – virmaior
    Oct 17, 2014 at 6:05
  • You might compare with "governor" as used by cabbies and other epithets used ironically ?
    – ogerard
    Mar 2, 2016 at 9:27

1 Answer 1

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Something similar happened in English, where "you", a formerly polite form which contrasted with "thou", is now the common second person pronoun with no inherent politeness.

It's a kind of semantic change called pejoration. In a society which values politeness, people will use a word B which sounds nicer/more polite than the usual word A. Once everybody uses B, B will become the norm, and people will start using a new word C to sound polite. Once C is being used as the polite word, using A will have become rude.

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  • Maybe it was just me so feel free to revert, but the tenses were bothering in the last part of your second paragraph. +1 for an interesting and instructive explanation.
    – virmaior
    Oct 17, 2014 at 5:52

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