May 8 (UPI) -- Ordinary North Koreans are less careful about addressing Kim Jong Un in respectful terms, and in some cases, showing esteem for the leader invites public ridicule, sources in the country say.
A source in North Hamgyong Province told Radio Free Asia the trend dates back to the era of Kim Jong Il, who ruled the country between 1994 and 2011.
"Even when Kim Jong Il was alive, there was a gradual shift to no longer addressing the leader in honorifics," the source said. "It was only until we entered the Kim Jong Un era the trend has come out in the open."
Feelings of reverence for the leadership have waned with economic changes, the source added.
"As state controls on commodity prices disappeared, food rations were cut off, and the government no longer offered help, honorific terms for the leader gradually disappeared," the source said. "With the growth of marketplaces and the rise of business activities, Kim Jong Un is losing his relevance."
A second source in the same province said Friday the decline in the use of honorifics began among Workers' Party officials at the regional level, as well as among officials in the judiciary.
"Among close friends, it is my understanding they no longer address Kim respectfully," the source said.
The report also stated when titles that elevate Kim's status are used among people who know each other well, they are teased about it.
But among strangers interacting in the unofficial markets or at train stations, the honorific titles continue to be employed out of caution, according to the report.
RFA's second source said expectations ran high when Kim assumed power after 2011.
But after the execution of Kim's uncle-in-law Jang Song Thaek, illusions of a better future crumbled.
"There are always state agents among the closest of friends and neighbors," the source said. "But no one has yet to be punished for not addressing Kim Jong Un in honorifics, so the system of idolization seems to be collapsing."