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ZDIC defines as "楼阁之下"。 Wiktionary

  1. (archaic) at the foot of a tower or pavilion.

Usage notes

Originally a term of respect toward members of the nobility; became a more generic term of respect later on.

But isn't 閣下 the wrong way? It's the underling who will be at the foot of a pavilion! Underling must curtsy before — is physically and anthropologically beneath (下) — His or Her Excellency or Honour. His or Her Excellency or Honour is physically, sociologically higher (上) than the flunkey. Thus 閣上 should refer to His or Her Excellency, and 閣下 the flunkey.

What's wrong with my logic?

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I think Dan's reference to Baidu and 陛下 answers the question, but for those who might not understand the Chinese or don't understand the connection. I will also provide an additional answer.

Terms of respectful address like 陛下 and 閣下 arose because it was considered a violation of protocol for a minister to address the emperor directly while he was in formal audience seated in a raised position at the top of the court steps. So ministers would instead direct their speech at the Emperor's close attendants (often eunuch officials) at the bottom of the steps. The Emperor could still hear what was said of course and so could respond directly to the speaker, so the term 閣下 became associated with indirect and respectful address to the emperor.

Calling a king "your majesty" has roughly similar logic. You don't address the king directly, but talk to his attribute, even forcing you to use third person pronouns for this indirect address (e.g., "Does your majesty accept?," rather than "Do you accept").

The term 閣下 has similar logic to 陛下. You don't address the illustrious person directly, but direct your remarks at that person's attendants hanging around at the foot of the "pavilion."

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This is the answer from Baidu.

以“陛下”为例。古代皇帝议事时坐在大殿上面,与大臣之间隔着“陛(台阶)”,陛的下面站着的是近臣(后来多由太监充任)。大臣有话要说或有本要奏,不能直接呼叫皇上,更不能直接将奏本递给皇上,而是通过站在台阶下面的近臣(太监)转达。大臣有话要说时只能喊“陛下”,即台阶下面的人。由于大臣所说的话皇帝都能听得见,并不用近臣复述,而可以直接对话。久而久之,大臣喊的“陛下”就成了皇帝的尊称。

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閣下 = You excellency. At the older time, 閣下 was an honorific when facing and addressing someone who had a higher position/social ranking than the speaker. But nowadays, 閣下 is simply used in place of 您, or sometimes just 你 (used with respect, or josh).

閣 has the meaning of "一種架空的小樓房(elevated small house/room)" and "官署(cabinet)", both imply a higher position. Therefore, 閣下 can be seen as saying: "我在你(閣)之下", 以表示自謙和對對方的尊重. In reverse, 閣上 would mean 你(閣)之上, which does not make sense, and is never used.

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  • Quote:- "But nowadays, 閣下 is simply used in place of 您, or sometimes just 你 (used with respect, or josh)" Yes, much like "Sir" which was used to address a Knight or Baronet in Olde England. Feb 8, 2022 at 5:26

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