Your Majesty, Your Grace... But My Lord? (Grammar 101)

If you have been watching Game of Thrones for any length of time, you’ve likely heard a variety of different ways that the characters address the kings and queens, princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses, and so forth. On Game of Thrones, they particularly like to use “your grace,” while the more common vernacular would call for “your majesty.”

But if we are meant to address these royal figures as your grace and your majesty, why is it that we would address these same people as my lord or my liege? What’s the difference? The answer is actually quite simple.

In effect, we are talking about a form of metonymy, a figure of speech wherein a part is used in place of the whole. This is related to a figure of speech called synecdoche where a related object or concept is used in place of the actual name of the actual thing.

The easiest way to understand metonymy and synecdoche is through examples. When someone calls for all “hands” on deck, they’re not actually asking for just the hands to be on deck; they’re asking for all of the staff or personnel (to which the hands are attached). If you are taking attendance, you might ask for a “head” count. Again, you’re not actually interested in just the heads; you’re interested in the number of people (to which the heads are presumably attached). The hands and heads are part of the people.

Going back to “your majesty” and “your grace,” we can then see how “majesty” and “grace” are qualities of the royal individual used in place of their actual name or title. The queen is a person who has grace (or is graceful). This is the same reason why you might address a judge as “your honor” or an ambassador as “your excellency.” It’s the same reason why a pope is addressed as “your holiness.” These are all qualities that the individuals possess, just like the hands and heads that the rest of us possess.

For royalty, you might also encounter “your highness” and, when speaking about the queen in the third person, you could use “Her Royal Highness.” This is the same reason why the Dalai Lama is sometimes called “His Holiness.” This usage of metonymy is meant to be a form of respect for a person of “higher” status.

The reason why you’d use “my lord” or “my liege” (rather than “your lord” or “your liege”) is that these titles are in reference to the relationship that you have with the person being addressed. My Lord is the person who is the lord of me, so to speak, in a similar way as I would talk about my mother, my friend, or my manager. Interestingly, you could also use “your lordship,” which would then again be a form of metonymy.

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