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I was talking to a person from another company on the phone on the other day. He asked me something that I could not answer, so I said, "let me go talk to my senior about the issue." Although she seemed to understand what I meant, I was wondering if this usage of the word "senior" is correct instead of using "supervisor" or "boss."

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    Where was this person located? I have heard this use of senior from South Asians, perhaps using a translation from usage in their mother tongue, but it is not used by native speakers in this way in Britain, North America, or the antipodes so far as I know. – choster Mar 2 '18 at 20:33
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I was wondering if this usage of the word "senior" is correct instead of using "supervisor" or "boss.

No, unless you're being very broad with the definition of a "supervisor".

I think the word you were actually looking for is superior. This is a valid synonym for someone who is above you in the hierarchy.
Note that the antonym, inferior, is technically correct but you shouldn't use it. It is considered disrespectful because it implies that you are putting the other person down or calling them incompetent.

As per T.J.L.'s comment, "subordinate" is a contextual antonym of superior, which is more acceptable to use. However, I would still suggest that you refer to your subordinates as colleagues as a matter of politeness and respect, to avoid inferences about you stressing their lower place in the hierarchy.


Contrary to the other answers, I do think there is a valid use case for "senior", but it is not in reference to a superior.

Senior does not denote someone who is above you in the chain of hierarchy; but rather an equal who is more experienced than you.
The antonym, for someone who is less experience than you, is junior. Medior (= of average experience) is only rarely used and more often omitted.

A senior developer is not a developer's boss. He is simply a more experienced colleague of the developer. They are on the same hierarchical level.
As a simple example, I've worked at the company for 4 years, and Tim has worked at the company for 8. We are both developers, but he is more experienced than me. To me, Tim is a senior developer. To Tim, I am a junior developer.

A colleague of yours isn't particularly assigned to you, it would be more correct to say "a/the senior [colleague]" instead of "my senior [colleague]".

However, it's possible that your company has rules that effectively give senior colleagues some limited authority over their junior colleagues.

  • My current company does in fact assign senior developers to junior developers, with the intent of coaching. However, I still wouldn't use "my senior", since the person you're talking to likely isn't aware and doesn't need to know that you have a coach. However, it would be correct to call your coach your supervisor. In this case, senior is indeed synonymous with supervisor.
  • Other companies may defer to the judgment of senior colleagues. E.g. if a senior developer disagrees with a junior developer, the company follows the senior's opinion. This can lead to a work environment where senior colleagues are effectively seen as a "mini boss" by the junior colleagues. In that sense, one could consider a senior to be higher up in the hierarchy.

But these examples are context-specific. As for the phone call you were having, you would've been better off referring to your boss as your superior.

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    In context, the antonym of "superior" is "subordinate" not "inferior". – T.J.L. Mar 2 '18 at 13:43
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    I'll add that "Senior Manager" is an official title at some businesses, and it does represent a superior/subordinate relationship. (Senior Managers are in charge of the junior managers.) In such an environment, it's possible that "let me talk to my senior" by a junior manager is an ellipsis for "let me talk to the Senior Manager who is in charge of my department". – R.M. Mar 2 '18 at 15:21
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    @R.M.: There are indeed fringe cases where it's correct, like the one you referenced. But it would still be unclear for the person who you're talking to (unless they are aware of the company hierarchy and titles). Part of communicating clearly is communicating in a way that the recipient understands your meaning, and "my senior" isn't all that clear without the recipient knowing the proper context. – Flater Mar 2 '18 at 15:24
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    Another alternative to "inferior" is "report". – Acccumulation Mar 2 '18 at 16:36
  • "A senior developer is not a developer's boss. He is simply a more experienced colleague of the developer. They are on the same hierarchical level." While I agree that this is sometimes true, it is not always true. It depends on the organisation. When I was first made a senior dev, although I did not become their bosses in pastoral terms (I was not their manager), I had a level of formal technical superiority and oversight/approval privileges on their technical output. We were not equals on the company's organisational chart. I don't believe this is unusual, though I could be wrong. – Lightness Races with Monica Mar 2 '18 at 19:03
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It is not the common usage. The word senior can be used as a noun, but then it normally means "Old person", or (in American use) "Final year student". In the context you give, "senior" would be understood, but there are better alternatives.

To mean a person above you in the company you can use "supervisor" "line manager" or "boss". You can use senior as an adjective "a senior colleague".

You should also be aware that there are cultural differences between English speaking cultures and many others in the attitude to hierarchy.

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Yes but this is not a fairly common term to use. I've heard it used by phone support. "Let me talk to my senior." But more commonly: "Let me talk to my senior supervisor." For some reason I most often hear senior and supervisor combined. Certainly boss and supervisor are two other ways that are perfectly acceptable in conversation.

  • I agree. I would take it to mean that "senior" is a specific part of the person's title, differentiating it from the speaker's own title. As in, I'm a Junior Shipping Clerk, and Bob's a Senior Shipping Clerk, and for stuff over 100 lbs I have to get "my Senior" to approve it. Within such a strict context I can imagine that this idiom could be the norm. – CCTO Mar 2 '18 at 21:01
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It is acceptable to use senior in this context- see meaning 2 in the Oxford Dictionary definition- but it is not common. This NGram shows that boss is considerably more widely used.

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In such call, if I needed to talk to my peer who has more knowledge about technology (and not a boss/supervisor), without involving the caller into hierarchies, I might just say "let me talk to our local expert (on X)".

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