Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:
Language carries a good deal more than mere raw information. The way you speak and write gives indications of your origins, education, and social class. And some exchanges carry little or no raw information at all.
Phatic (pronounced FAT-ik) language exists for social interaction rather than the exchange of information. In the Malinowski-Ogden-Richards Meaning of Meaning in 1923, which coined the word, phatic communication is described as "a type of speech in which ties of union are created by a mere exchange of words."
You will recognize phatic statements: "Good morning." "How are you?" "How 'bout them Orioles?" Yes, dear, I'm listening." They have no meaning apart from "I acknowledge that you are a fellow hominid with whom I am acquainted and toward whom I express no hostility."
The word comes from the Greek phatos, "spoken," or phatikos, "affirming."
Example: From Umberto Eco's Travels in Hyperreality: "We conduct phatic discourse indispensable to maintaining a constant connection among speakers; but phatic speech is indispensable precisely because it keeps the possibility of communication in working order, for the purpose of other and more substantial communications."
Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times