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So, I heard a colleague of mine use the expression "I thought I should introduce myself on a semi-first-name basis". Even though I use English a lot, I've never heard it before. My question is what does it mean? If my name is John Applewhite how would you address me "on a semi first name basis"?

Thank you!

EDIT: While user3169's answer makes sense, I found out that my colleague really uses the expression according to Maulik's definition. I would vote up for both answers as a "thank you for your time and help but I don't have enough reputation!

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    My first impression is that "first name basis" is used to indicate how familiar the relationship might be, and the semi implies that the tone your colleague would like the introduction to have is one that is not too formal, for instance where he would expect to be called Mr. Applewhite, but also not so familiar where someone would talk to him as a friend and maybe call him Johnny. I think that he added the "semi" to not be too pushy in case the person he was introducing himself to wanted to remain more formal. – ColleenV Mar 12 '15 at 17:18
  • Approximately, if your name was John Applewhite and I was addressing you "on a semi first name basis", I would address you/refer to you as either John or Mr Applewhite about equally often. In the real world, I'd probably tend to use John only either when there were no other people involved in the conversation, or if all the others were fully on "first-name terms" with you. – FumbleFingers Mar 12 '15 at 17:20
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    ... and if you were going to write it out, consistent with the standard tenets of the English language, it would be: semi-first-name basis. – Gary Mar 12 '15 at 21:19
  • Gary good catch! Fixed it. – Vag Mar 13 '15 at 8:38
  • You are welcome. My sole purpose was to help you and I just tried it. – Maulik V Mar 13 '15 at 9:10
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I may apply general logic here:

semifinal -not fully final;
semisolid -not fully solid;
semi first-name -not a full first name

I'm not an American so exactly don't know how to shorten names. But let me try...

For instance, your friend's name is Rachel Fishman.

Now here...

Fishman: Last Name
Rachel: First name
Rach: Semi-first name.

Said that, if you are close to Rachel, you don't bother uttering the whole name. What I just said up there...

Hey Rach, bring me beer!

So, if Rachel says, "Let me introduce myself on a semi-first-name basis", I think Rachel is trying to be friendly with the audience/opposite person. Said that, on the very first meeting, Rachel wants to be an amicable person and does not want to get into formalities.

Something like...

Hey, that's okay, call me Rach!

Immediately, the opposite person gets feeling of friendliness.

[In your case, as I said earlier, I'm not sure how to shorten the word 'John' further!]


This is a logical answer, and I'm not sure whether it has something to do with 'culture'. Depending upon comments, I shall improve/delete this. Here, I just tried to help the OP.

  • I'm sorry but this is just not what it means - it's more subtle that that. If I know someone on a "first name basis" it might mean that I can call them by a shortened name - but calling someone by a shortened name is not what "semi first-name basis" is! Refer to @user3169's answer. – Jeffrey Kemp May 27 '16 at 1:34
  • In other words, the "semi" is not referring to the shortened name; it modifies the meaning of the idiom "first name basis". – Jeffrey Kemp May 27 '16 at 1:35
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The phrase:

on a first name basis

means that you know someone well enough that you can address him by his first name, as opposed to a more formal setting, where you would likely be addressed as "Mr. Applewhite".

Saying:

on a semi first name basis

is kind of a middle ground, in between formal and familiar. Where that is depends on the relationship. I think you would likely be addressed as "John" in this case, but your interaction would be more formal than someone you know well like a friend.

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not sure if this is really an answer, more of an opinion…

Honestly, I think your colleague needs to learn a new introductory expression. That one produced 2 diametrically opposing answers when tested in here.

I've never heard the expression either, so even as a native I'm guessing as to his intended meaning.

As a native, I'd be more inclined to think user3169's answer was closer to the intended meaning - I'd be very hesitant to test out Maulik's theory if that was my new boss.
"Hey Johnny!" really might not be the best way to open your career ;-)

"Let me introduce myself… John Smith" then optionally, "Call me John" or "Call me Johnny."
Adding neither would imply "Call me Mr Smith." but politeness, etiquette & expectation on both sides would allow that to remain unspoken.

"Let me kind of semi introduce myself, a bit.. perhaps.., with no explanation on maybe using half my first name… or is that half my last name… or maybe one of each on alternate Tuesdays.. or maybe only a bit formally - drop the mister if you like, just call me Smith - but I didn't actually tell you my name yet... "

is really not the way to begin a relationship.

  • Thank you for your reply! Actually, the opposing answers came as a surprise to me! When I asked the question I was looking for a "official" meaning of the phrase. It seems that there is none and this is just a bad expression. The answer I accepted was only in the context of my colleague's intention. – Vag Mar 15 '15 at 16:00
  • Yes - that was the intention of my answer, to point out how inventing your own expression to replace well-established existing ones only works if both your & your listener's command of English is exceptional - & even then can be ambiguous. Sometimes tried & tested is best ;) – Tetsujin Mar 15 '15 at 16:06

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