Paddit Rhetic

Phatic: Denoting or relating to language used for general purposes of social interaction, rather than to convey information or ask questions. Utterances such as hello, how are you? and nice morning, isn't it? are phatic. (-Lodestar, /r/logophilia, 2 months ago)

It's a pretty modern word (1923), despite the fact that it's almost purely Greek (phatikos from phatos "spoken, that may be spoken,") Compare with the much older (1708) "emphatic", or the even earlier (1550s) "emphatical". (/u/mpaw975)

The title contains the main content of the linked Oxford Dictionary definition. I have not yet compared phatic to emphatic or emphatical (comparison with sympathy was catalytic enough) but I may indeed have to do so because my original hunch was that Malinowski misunderstood Tylor's "natural language" and shortened "emphatic" to phatic. The use of emphatic set against phatic communication by some Christian authors really made me reconsider the possibility that there might be more behind "emphatic".

TIL that expressions such as "what's up" and "you're welcome" are called "Phatic expressions" (/u/Goldegen, /r/todayilearned, 1 year ago)

"it is an indication that each has recognized the other's presence and has therefore sufficiently performed that particular social duty."
I'm tempted to just start shouting "I RECOGNIZE YOUR PRESENCE" (/u/YnotZornberg)

The link leads to Wikipedia article on "Phatic expressions", which is a dud. There are only 7 random references and the article as a whole seems very confused. Though the references does contain one source I'm unfamiliar with: Hartmut Haberland's "Communion or Communication?" (1996). Aside from one user replying to the capslocked shout with the answer "YOU HAVE SUFFICIENTLY PERFORMED YOUR SOCIAL DUTY", there is nothing remarkable in this thread, so I'll instead quickly read Haberland's short piece (notes elsewhere). Oh hell yeah, Hartmut Haberland has even uploaded his 1984 publication "A field manual for readers of "The problem of meaning in primitive languages" by Bronislaw Malinowski" (ROLIG-papir 31: 17-51). Hot damn, this odd venture has payed off merely by this great finding!

Ha, I'm a Brit whose job regularly introduces him to Americans, and I can never quite work out if "hey, how are you" is phatic or not - they seem surprised to get or not get an answer seemingly at random.
The correct responding move in the language game is, "good, how are you?" There may be regional preferences for "pretty good" or "not bad", but there is essentially only one correct answer, even if you're in a full body cast in your way to a funeral. (/u/zippityflip)

Good to know.

In terms of first use it goes: emphatical, emphatic, then phatic. (/u/mpaw975, /r/etymology, 2 months)

Emphatical: archaic variant of emphatic. origin 1570s

Emphatic: showing or giving emphasis; expressing something forcibly and clearly. origin 1708

Phatic: denoting or relating to language used for general purposes of social interaction, rather than to convey information or ask questions. Utterances such as hello, how are you? and nice morning, isn't it? are phatic. origin 1923

The root is the Greek phatos "spoken, that may be spoken,".

The "-ic" ending comes from the Greek way to turn it into an adjective (-ikos), and the "-al" comes from the Latin way to turn it into an agjective (-alis).

The confusing part is that I would have expected the root word (phatic) to be the oldest, then the words with extra endings to be older. For example, Muse → Music → Musical. (/u/mpaw975)

Huh, this is the same user who made that remark about etymology, above. It's a case of back-formation, that is, a new lexeme was created by removing an affix (be it em- or sym-, i.e. following Tylor or Spencer).

φατός (phatos) comes from the verb φημί which means 'I say', 'I talk'. The prefix 'em' also comes from the prefix 'εν'. There is the word εμφατικός (emphaticos) in greek with the same meaning with the english word. (/u/TheDoerAloneLearneth)

Cool, the Greek dictionary gives "forcible, expressive, indicative, vivid". And whence comest sympathy?

WTW for a pleasantry, nicety, or common banter between people, even when you don't really mean it? "Good morning. How are you?" "Good, thanks. And you?" etc. (/u/spritesprite8, /r/whatstheword, 7 months ago)

I know there is a specific name for these everyday phrases we use and kinda don't even mean -- when people ask "How are you?" -- we don't really tell them all our woes and successes... we just answer simply, "Good. You?" "Fine, thanks." You don't really care, but you feel obligated to ask because of social norms. There is a term for this type of conversation, and I can't remember it! (/u/spritesprite8)

This is a neat paraphrase into modern parlance: "You don't really care" mirrors the asymmetry of sympathy and "you feel obligated to ask" the Art of Conversation quip about people feeling compelled to engage in polite conversation.

It's not platitudes or greetings or pleasantries that I'm thinking of. It's not niceties, either. Anyone know the technical term for the phrases we use just to get through the day with minimal, distant interaction, and not truly engage with each other? (/u/spritesprite8)

Ironically, phaticity, in its various manifestations, covers all of these speech genres. The "minimal, distant interaction" vs "truly engaging" is, I think, reflective of a very modern contact trope: it's akin to "lurking" vs "engaging".

Thanks for making me aware of the term, "phatic expressions," but it seems that term lacks the fundamental insincerity/hollowness of the kind of words that the OP is describing. You can sincerely/compassionately apply "phatic expressions" in real life, even if the information that is yielded is not always of an in-depth nature. The emphasis, in the definition you provided, on a lack of "information of value" is a bit puzzling to me (that sort of makes sense for "hello," less so for "how are you?"). (/u/2001_with_dinosaurs)

This is the problem with pejorative definitions: various mediators add or emphasize aspects of their own choosing. Here, OP is actually emphasizing a factor present in the original definition, as Malinowski put it, "the hearer listens [to personal accounts of the speaker's views and life history] under some restraint and with slightly veiled impatience, waiting till his own turn arrives to speak". So, "you don't really care" is actually a justified interpretation.

You "don't really care?" You should care. I get the part about suppressing the truth of your own hardship, because social custom prevents us from randomly opening up to strangers. I'm never indifferent to someone's answer to "how are you?", though, even if I often expect the answer to be a simplification of the truth. But not expecting a complicated/in-depth answer is not the same as not caring (I imagine you know this and that you didn't mean that you actually don't care) ….ANYWAY. I think this is best served via an adjective and noun combination: Insincere niceties? Janus-faced etiquette? Obligatory pleasantries? (/u/2001_with_dinosaurs)

This is eerily reminiscent of the contrast I drew between a dictionary definition of phatic communion and a small monologue in Waking Life in a previous post: "when someone passes you in the corridor" and asks the mandatory "How are you?", "it would be a breach of manners to take the question as having content and actually to tell them what a bad day you've had", but if you feel like you're simply keeping "this ant colony buzzing along in an efficient polite manner" and instead "want real human moments", to see another person and be seen, you'll have to break the protocol and risk losing face.

Our "how are you?" remarks should be coming from a place of sincerity. It's not necessarily that all cashiers (to use your example) don't want to know about our ailments or difficulties, and don't care, but that they recognize the value of privacy and tact. At the same time, the "how are you?" custom represents a thread of — ideally — sincere empathy and solicitude that is a very important aspect of society (especially online, where, in certain threads and comment sections, you sometimes see a disturbing evacuation of empathy and politeness). (/u/2001_with_dinosaurs)


CMV: Making Plans During A Random Run-In With A Former Acquaintance Is A Superficial Gesture And It Should Be Avoided (/u/blueberryh1ll, /r/blueberryh1ll, 2 months ago)

I was getting off the train after coming back to my hometown from school, and while I was waiting at the station I saw one of my former classmates. We had been friendly in high school and it just so happened that he had come in on the same train as me. We chatted for a bit about the funny coincidence, but when it came time for him to go he tried to invite me to hang out with him later and asked me for my number, which I gave him while in my head thinking that nothing at all would become of his invitation. I turned out to be right. (/u/blueberryh1ll)

It sounds like there's a designated time at the end of the interaction that mandates an agreement about further interactions. I think John Laver (1975) might actually have something like this (I really need to re-read it).

I don't take spontaneous moments like that seriously because if the person in question really wanted to see me, they would contact me directly over social media or text. Why does it take running into me physically for a person to suddenly become interested in kindling a friendship? (/u/blueberryh1ll)

In analogy with vocabulary, I'd say there are active and passive contacts. You're in the habit to exchange messages regularly over social media or text with your active social milieu, but when you meet a former classmate, you're as if re-discovering a word you know but haven't used in a while. The passive contact, if pleasant, naturally invokes the possibility of transforming it into an active one.

I wonder if this gesture is merely symbolic, like when you ask someone "how are you". In the case of "how are you", the asker does not expect to receive a genuine, detailed answer to their question. Likewise, I would say in this situation where one runs into former friends, one makes plans but does not actually intend to follow through with them. As such I guess it falls into the 'phatic' function of language as a means of safely ending a conversation. (/u/blueberryh1ll)

This "merely symbolic" is problematic because symbols have a lot of definitions, and this seems to veer towards the pejorative or diminutive aspect (it's symbolic, not real). But there is actually a related terminologial invention for what is meant here. This is George Herbert Mead's significant gesture, which is his way of putting "communicative act" (or such act "full of meaning"), possibly originating from Tylor, and set against insignificant gestures, like the one treated here: it's not held as fully meaningful and socially binding.

I have been guilty of this too. I have run into older, closer friends and have told them that we should "go do something some time", not being very specific, because I meant it in a way that signified my feelings were still positive toward them. I did not think of it as lying per se, because if a closer, older friend wanted to meet me I would definitely oblige, but I also said it knowing that we likely would not pursue each other's friendships again. (/u/blueberryh1ll)

Meta-communication, or the mu-function (communication about relationship): by opening the possibility of future contact you're giving an implicit message about the state of the relationship, and not intending the explicit component of the message (making future plans). How it will be followed up then depends on the actually relationship, and whether participants are really willing to spend time together.

Ozu's 1959 light comedy 'Good Morning': a dark look at the existential despair of the human condition (/u/tetsugakusei, /r/TrueFilm, 4 months ago)

Ozu's 'Good morning' from 1959 is described as a comedy on Wikipedia. It would be better be described as 'tragic existentialism'; a dark interrogation of the profoundly intersubjective origins of human subjectivity.
"We do say those things... But maybe it's necessary"
The title's 'Good morning', really better translated as 'Morning!' sounds chirpy enough. Perhaps you imagine the start of a comedy sketch. In fact, the characters discuss why they even say these formal expressions such as 'lovely weather today', 'welcome home' and so on. (/u/tetsugakusei)

I suspect that phatic communion, at least the concept and its assumptions, became popular in Japan thanks to Hayakawa.

Owing to Japan's excessive use of these expressions and the Japan's language extraordinary use of interjections that have a similar function, to a foreigner reading the subtitles you could think Ozu is in overkill. But, in fact, it is Japanese society that is in overkill mode: all the better for understanding the human subject. (/u/tetsugakusei)

I have indeed noticed that Japan seems to have more and a greater variety of phatic rituals. Studies of yoroshiku onegaishimasu (Obana 2012), aizuchi (Kita & Ide 2007) and kodokushi (Nozawa 2015) are cases in point.

To top this off, the children also run off for a few hours, giving the community a small chance to feel the enjoyment of fearing together. A sense of identity in working together to overcome this trivial fear arises. Much as at a funeral people expend great energy over the mundane details so they don't have to think about the passing of the person. (/u/tetsugakusei)

This was the point of the concept of "bad objects" in the previous post, though there are surely better terms related to this issue (Malinowski and others treat it under the term herd instinct). This discussion might benefit from Elias Canetti's Crowds and Power (1960).


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