When writers want to hint at the true extent of a recently-introduced character's power or influence without going into detail about it, they instead have already-established and respected characters address them in a deferential manner. After all, if a well-known badass treats this person with utmost respect, so should everyone else if they know what's good for them. Done too blatantly, however, it may come across as Character Shilling.
Does not include regimented forms of address, such as when speaking to someone higher in the chain of command: a badass private may refer to a general as "sir", but that doesn't automatically mean the latter is a Four-Star Badass. Villain Cred is a subtrope limited to Villains. Compare also The Knights Who Say "Squee!", where younger heroes seek to emulate their older idols, "Well Done, Son!" Guy or So Proud of You, where a character strives to be respected by the ones they respect. Compare/contrast The Dreaded (who is defined by the fear everyone else shows of them), Don't Call Me "Sir" (when the man who is being called "sir" wishes to be treated less professionally) and They Call Me Mister Tibbs (when the man demands to be called "sir" as a show of respect).
- In Gamma, the world's current top superheroine, Puella Magi Mika, comes running when Yuri Kitajishi—ostensibly a muggle—gives her a call, and she even salutes her—because Yuri is actually Lily Cure, the retired top superheroine of all times and Mika's former mentor. Later on, the alien hero Mighty Blow's strength is hinted at when the freaking zoo lions bow to him out of their own volition.
- Hayate Yagami from Lyrical Nanoha is the single most powerful mage in the multiverse and a highly decorated military officer, yet she always defers to her former mentor and commanding officer Genya Nakajima when they interact (despite the fact that she, a Lieutenant Colonel, has long since outranked him, a Major).
- In Fairy Tail, the eponymous guild gets a request for help from Warrod, one of the top Wizard Saints and a founding member of the guild along with Makarov's father. Makarov, himself a Wizard Saint and the current Master of Fairy Tail, knows what an important and respected person Warrod is, and immediately realizes that failure is no option.
- After Chojiro Sasakibe, vice-captain to Head Captain Yamamoto, is killed by the Vandenreich, Byakuya Kuchiki, a highly skilled and respected captain who tends to be dismissive of most people, expresses respect for Chojiro's Undying Loyalty to Yamamoto, particularly staying at his post and refusing to become a captain despite being able to use Bankai.
- When a member of the Zero Squad reveals that she set foot in Mayuri Kurotsuchi's lab without permission, Mayuri simply takes it. Considering that he previously hadn't hesitated to unapologetically defend taking extreme measures without Yamamoto's position while also calling Yamamoto out on failing to deal with the Quincies, this goes to show that the Zero Squad are no ordinary captains.
- In Naruto, when Tsunade introduces Naruto to the Great Toad Sage Fukasaku, she addresses Fukasaku with the extremely respectful "-sama" honorific, a show of courtesy she shows to hardly anyone. Despite normally being somewhat tolerant of Naruto's less than respectful behavior toward her, Tsunade tells him to mind his manners around Fukasaku.
- Superman is almost always this trope and it never comes across as anything but deserved. From normal people to gods and cosmic entities, everybody respects Superman. Even his enemies. As The Paragon of the DCU, the Nice Guy, Humble Hero, All-Loving Hero, Incorruptible Pure Pureness whose always telling people You Are Not Alone, You Are Better Than You Think You Are and always helping A Friend in Need and when people try to tell how great he is he always says Think Nothing of It or It's What I Do which makes him even more amazing given that he's a Physical God that has fought off super-villains, monsters, demons, and actual gods to protect the world and has been a champion in cosmic wars against evil just to protect everybody. Hal as the specter summed him up perfectly during JLA: Soul War.
He was born on another world and there were times, I admit, when I found him too good, too perfect, to be believed. And perhaps he was. Yet as I came to know him, as our bond deepened through the years, I saw that what made Superman great was his ability to both reflect and inspire the best and brightest in all of us. He gazed, with clear eyes, at all of my flaws and imperfections and accepted me. And somehow, that's helped me to accept myself. With his extraordinary powers, He could have set himself up as a god. And I suspect we would have gladly let him. But what he wanted most of all was to be human. Superman was possessed of a humility I found astonishing. He truly saw himself as an every-man. James Stewart in tights and a cape. He didn't believe that he was special. That he deserved special treatment. Maybe that was a psychological trick: A way of dealing with his true nature. Maybe the only way to function as a god, to carry out a god's responsibilities and remain sane, was to deny that he was one. To assume the modest persona of a Kansas farm-boy. But here's the paradox: He was a Kansas farm-boy AND a god. More than that: He was my friend.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic of RealityCheck's Nyxverse, Twilight Sparkle's father Night Light, during a tirade against an especially annoying reporter, delivers a Badass Boast listing all the accomplishments of his son and daughter and the various special ponies they are involved with, and finishes up with "...and every one of them calls me SIR!"
- In The Parselmouth of Gryffindor, Hermione, by Dumbledore, Nicolas Flamel and many more.
- The Lord Inquisitor himself drops to one knee almost immediately when he meets Flemeth in All This Sh*t is Twice as Weird. It Makes Sense in Context, because the Lord Inquisitor is a Dalish elf, and Flemeth is the host body of the elven goddess Mythal.
- In The Emperor's first appearance in the Star Wars saga, Darth Vader—who had been the scariest bad guy until then—kneels to take a phone call from his "master".
- In a Cut Song from Little Shop of Horrors called "I'm Bad", Audrey II boasts that the Bride of Frankenstein calls him "Mr. Audrey Sir".
- In a deleted scene from We Were Soldiers, a group of soldiers are discussing their new assignment when one of them mentions the Sergeant Major they'll be working under is Sergeant Plumley. One of them recognizes the name and launches into a story about when he was a new recruit he served under a badass Sergeant Rock that was Covered in Scars, a double Medal of Honor awardee, who effortlessly humiliated an Ensign Newbie who tried to dress him down. He then reveals that said sergeant wasn't Plumley but was a guy who worked under Plumley... and was scared absolutely shitless of Plumley.
- The first person to whom we see Harry Dresden, the protagonist of The Dresden Files, show genuine deference is his mentor, Ebenezar McCoy. Detective Murphy is downright shocked to hear the habitually irreverent Harry call him "Sir." Much of this is because Ebenezar was a father-figure to him, but he is also one of the most powerful wizards around, becoming a member of the Senior Council the first time the readers are introduced to him.
- In He Lover of Death, Senka watches the ineffectual dandy he robbed earlier casually grill the huge constable who is keeping the entire Wretched Hive of Khitrovka in terror, and realizes just how deep in trouble he is when the constable displays nothing but head-bowing humility in front of him. The "dandy", of course, turns out to be the series' overarching protagonist, Erast Fandorin.
- In Jingo, a general of the Klatchian Army is surrounded by D'regs and asks Carrot, who's leading them, why they haven't already attacked. Carrot explains that he asked them not to attack because Commander Vimes wouldn't like it. The general promptly surrenders, telling an aide who questions him that "This man can make water run uphill, and he has a commander!"
- In Henry Lion Oldie's short story "The Last One" (later incorporated as a chapter into the 1992 novel The Road), a futuristic martial arts competition is interrupted when a younger contestant insults an old one-armed Japanese spectator, prompting every black belt in the attendance, including the contest judges, to jump to the old man's defense. It turns out the latter is actually Gohen Miyagi, a legendary Old Master who trained most of said black belts, and whose arm was amputated after he used it to break through the supposedly impenetrable Deflector Shields protecting competitors from serious injury and to kill his opponent in a contest for insulting his own teacher earlier.
- Towards the end of Watership Down, General Woundwort goes up against Bigwig, who pulls off a "None Shall Pass" because "My Chief Rabbit has ordered me to hold you here." This is a major Oh, Crap! moment for Woundwort... and yet this says more about him than about Bigwig's Chief Rabbit, because Woundwort lacks the imagination to realise that there might be more to who's in charge of a warren than mere physical prowess; Bigwig could handily mop the floor with Hazel in a straight-up fight, but Hazel won his (initially somewhat grudging) respect with his charisma and quick thinking.
- In Supernatural Dean, who will give lip to demons, angels, and even Satan with no fear at all, and who has no problem facing any monster with a smug smirk and utter contempt, balks at even the thought of being rude to Death:
Death: Shut up, Dean.Dean: Yessir.
- It is said of the title character of the Jim Croce song "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" that
All the downtown ladies call him "Treetop Lover"
All the men just call him "Sir"
- Master Chief, the protagonist of the Halo series, is addressed as "sir" by other marines—which wouldn't raise any eyebrows, since they're in the military... except Master Chief Petty Officer is a non-commissioned rank, and noncoms are never addressed as 'sir', unless the speaker does so to show a special form of respect, which Master Chief deserves and then some.
- The scene that cements this occurs in Halo 4 when the Chief, explicitly against the orders of Captain Del Rio, heads to a launch bay on the Infinity to take a Pelican and go after the Didact. While Del Rio is blaring orders over the PA system for the crew to stop John-117, not only do they not do so, they snap to attention and salute him as he walks by. Needless to say, non-coms aren't normally saluted, but the Master Chief is, by ship's crew, Marines, other Spartans, enlisted, non-coms, and officers. While he is, officially, engaging in mutiny.
- In Mass Effect 3's tutorial, James Vega breaks regs by saluting Shepard and addressing him/her by rank as a show of respect, despite Shepard currently being suspended awaiting Court Martial and thus rating neither rank nor salute. This is lampshaded by Shepard.
- In the same game, Garrus Vakarian doesn't really have an official rank, but he's the turians' Reaper expert and their generals salute him and look to him for advice and instructions.
- In Blazblue, Bang Shishigami is (perhaps rightly) treated as a joke by every other character... except for Hakumen (who is a legendary hero from the past... future... it's complicated), who has nothing but praise for Bang's idealism and heroic spirit.
- After the five-year Time Skip in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, all of your now-former students still refer to Byleth as Professor/Sensei — even those who have become generals, kings, and emperors in the meantime.
- Kirumi Tojo of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, the Ultimate Maid, is surprisingly well-respected among her fellow extremely talented peers for her ability to carry out any request her employers ask of her, enabling her to become the group's Team Mom. In the Talent Development Plan mode, in which Kirumi interacts with her peers from this game and the previous two, she even manages to impress Byakuya, and while Celeste prefers being served by a group of handsome male butlers, she says that any butler agency that Kirumi recommends must be exceptionally good.
- From Tales of the Questor, part of Quentyn's Badass Boast is "The gangs of the Tumbledowns call me 'sir', if they know what's good for them."
- In Vexxarr, the crew is preparing to flee a space station after illegally accepting service from it. Carl asks what kind of law enforcement would be after them, and Vexxarr answers that all he knows is that the army of giant mechanics aboard the station are terrified of them.