Why do people say “father” when not actually addressing a priest?


#1

Seen this a lot lately and it strikes me as super awkward. Obviously, if you’re addressing a priest (“hey, good morning, father”) that’s appropriate. Ditto if you’re referring to a specific priest (“go ask Father Mark if he can move his car.”)

But I’ve seen people use “father” in a more general sense, like it’s interchangeable with “a priest.” ie “if you need to go to confession, go to a church and talk to Father.” as opposed to “go to a church and talk to a priest.”

Is this a non-American thing? I’ve never seen people do this anywhere but CAF and it always sounds weird to me.

It would be like saying “if you need to report a crime, go to the police station and talk to Officer” as opposed to “talk to a cop” or “talk to a police officer.”


#2

It makes sense, every Catholic priest is your spiritual father when you go to him. I’ve heard the term Father used like that here in the UK, not all that commonly, but it doesn’t sound unusual.


#3

That is how literally every Catholic around me speaks “did you speak to Father about that?” “Call your parish and speak to Father”.


#4

I’ve heard it when they’re referencing a specific priest. Like, we both go to the same parish so if I say “I talked to Father yesterday” I guess that’s not super weird because we both know who I’m talking about. But when you’re talking about a generic priest it just strikes my ear as odd.

Not wrong necessarily, just janky English.


#5

We kind of say Father and priest interchangeably in my family tbh


#6

Hmm, maybe because he’s the spiritual Father of the community…


#7

What I do find awkward is when people say “May I speak to the Father?” or “The Father will come over for supper”.


#8

Yeah that’s crazy weird.


#9

No, it’s just you.

Everybody says it everywhere, it is a familiar usage, and no one else has a problem with it. It’s used in the United States, in Canada, in the Philippines (where “Padre” is an alternative, i.e. “I’m going to see Padre”).


#10

I’m kinda floored. I swear I’ve never heard anyone do this in real life. I’ve always heard people say “ask a priest this” or “talk to a priest” not “ask Father this” etc, unless it’s in reference to a specific individual priest


#11

Can’t comment on your own experience, but everywhere else, it’s used, it’s not strange at all, and it just comes naturally to everyone.


#12

Everyone minus one, I guess. I think it sounds super clunky. Like I said, sort of like saying “go to the police station and talk to Officer” when the person means a cop in general, not a specific individual.


#13

I do this in speech and in writing so I guess it is just how we address our Priests when talking to them and about them.


#14

I think it might be more British than American, but it’s still common around here. When I watch BBC shows, I notice a lack of “the” in phrasing… “I need to make an appointment with doctor.” (and it usually refers to a particular individual implying everyone understands Dr. Smith is the one in question, not in the generic sense of any doctor).


#15

In New York City at least, I’ve heard this more than in Texas where I grew up, so maybe it originated in Europe, or maybe it’s just more “old school.”


#16

I get why you’d say it in reference to a specific priest, sure. Just not in reference to a priest in general. “Father” is a title/form of address, not the name of the job, for lack of a better word.

You wouldn’t say “Jim is a Father” when you mean “Jim is a priest.”

Anyway, probably making too big a deal out of it, just something I’ve been noticing.


#17

I’ve really only heard it said in situations where the personal identity of “Father” is presumed. “I saw Father at the parish picnic…” “Father came to visit me at the hospital.”


#18

I’ve heard both usages. I’ve even heard the plural: “the Fathers at Paris X are great.” Or “one of the Fathers will come to hear confession.”

It’s respectful.


#19

Minus two. :blush:


#20

It appears to me to be an elliptical comment, where in this case the name of the priest is omitted: “Go and talk to Father [Robert] about this.” It is a little strange, because, as you pointed out, we don’t use the same construction with other titles; we say either “. . . the [title] . . .” or “. . . Title [person’s name] . . .”. Nevertheless, this construction has been used enough that it has become common vernacular. I myself don’t think twice when I see / hear it.

D


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