Date: Wed, 22 Oct 1997 19:45:07 +0000

From: Lynne Murphy M_Lynne_Murphy[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]BAYLOR.EDU

Subject: Re: thank you . . . thank you


Can you honestly say that you haven't noticed a decrease in politeness in

the last 20, 10, even 5 years? People do not speak kindly. They no

longer use words that show their respect for people. For example, your

response seemed kind of impolite to me. I know that you had to have

noticed the change in people today. There is no formality. There is no

polite small talk amongst strangers anymore. There is no one asking

stranger how they are doing that day. How could you not notice these

things. As for a time frame, pick a date and look at the decrease of

pleasant ness from there on.

you're equating two things with being polite: being formal and

engaging in meaningless (but "pleasant") talk. whether being formal

is good or not, i must take issue with the latter. i find it really

IMpolite that strangers want to engage me in meaningless banter. for

instance, i'm a single woman who likes to do things alone, like going

to movies and eating in restaurants. other people (projecting their

own fears of being alone onto me, i presume) insist on talking to

me--and making small (high in quantity, low in quality) talk. here i

am with nabokov in my hand and i have to grunt my agreement with this

stranger's assessments of the weather, the big game on saturday, and

the political situation. the WORST is when strangers tell me to

smile. excuse me? for all you know my dog just died, the great love

of my life has run off with the best dentist i ever found, and i've

just accidentally killed a troop of boy scouts with my car. hey, for

all that relentlessly cheery person knows, i may have some horrid

nerve disease which makes it impossible for me to smile--and they've

just reminded me of my horrid disfigurement by pointing it out.

note here that my definition of "polite" is: not making the other

person feel bad. the problem is, of course, that you can't really

know what will make a stranger feel bad--so people pick some

lowest-common-denominator behaviors and assume that they'll make

everyone feel good. there's a general american belief that everyone

should be friends with everyone--but that ends up just diluting and

warping the notion of friendship. (to get this back to the linguistic

and the educational--this was a hot topic in my cross-cultural

linguistics class a few weeks ago. recommended readings: stewart &

bennett's _american cultural patterns_, chapter 5 & the article on

finnish perspectives on american "superficiality" in samovar &

porter's _intercultural communication_, 8th ed.)

fight the hegemony of the cheerful! up with angst! we are our own


a little punchy, but still happily morbid and morose,



M. Lynne Murphy

Assistant Professor in Linguistics

Department of English

Baylor University

PO Box 97404

Waco, TX 76798