Call me irreverent, but I believe the practice of addressing unfamiliar people as sir or ma’am now fully belongs to a bygone era.

Those born of more genteel generations no doubt decry the unchecked corrosion of the frontiers of respect, much as they are perplexed by the younger set’s capacity for instant rapport.

There is much truth to this just as there is, surely, reason for nostalgia. Nevertheless, the practice is dead and so it is worthwhile to ponder its decline.

Sir and ma’am now suffer from the worst fate that can become an act of protocol: perfunctoriness.

No longer a mark of breeding and manners, they are now the buzzwords of societal cogs that appear to be making an effort but are really just going through the motions.

There’s no need to feign interest so long as these bells are rung at their proper moments. This is not veneration; it’s laziness.

The terms have become vested with aging connotations. As with most glacially evolving trends, we absorb evidence of this petrifaction via off-hand observations — of the people who use these terms and the circumstances in which they are used.

Subordinate to superior, they come off as being sycophants. Superior to subordinate, they patronize.

At their best, they are nothing-isms, sallied forth with a Hail-Mary, received with a pinched groan.

Nowadays, usage of these terms is just the filling of dead air

They are kicked around amongst friends or are campy terms of endearment, irradiated by self-parody and robbed of their power to convey deference. Diminished, cutesy and altogether meaningless.

At times I’ve gone so far as to suggest that calling someone sir or ma’am — particularly in a service capacity — is in fact a sign of disrespect.

That’s probably overstepping a little. Still, there is something quasi-sinister in the demeanor of a steely-eyed, purse-lipped waiter when addressing his supposed better; it is wielded like a knife.

Yes, sir. Of course, sir. Thank you, sir. Stab stab stab.

There is, no doubt, guilt by association at work.

All too often we are lathered up with sirs and ma’ams by persons trying to sell us something, and who, in the course of long-winded pitches, are only wasting our time.

But do the words ever actually soften a person’s stony resolve or match his self-expectation?

Are there still such people who expect to hear sir or ma’am when addressed?

Do they think, “This is my due?”

These are people to be wary of, mark my words.

Perhaps a re-invigorated term will surface — something epigrammatic on the order of my good man or madam — or perhaps not.

But this doesn’t mean the ancient pillars of respect are doomed to topple into the sea — it simply means that regard must be conveyed through channels that haven’t been rendered meaningless with overuse.

There is a lady with whom I am in regular contact and her cheeky insistence on calling me “sir” chafes like tight pants.

In our single exchange about the needlessness, she countered that it was just how she was raised, thank you very much.

No doubt she is presently instilling the same archaic pieties in her children.

But something sinister lurks beneath her squeaky veneer. And the way in which she dispenses the word “sir” reveals it is not an entirely selfless act; there is a self-congratulatory pretentiousness at work.

The subtext bellows: Look at how polite and well-raised I am! No slouch, not me!

And that is all I need to know, the last and most damning turn of the screw.

Her persistence tells a cautionary tale about people who do things for their own self-satisfaction that are being passed off as for the benefit of others.

Hello, sir. Please, sir. Thank you, sir.

Give it a rest, babe.