Date: Fri, 24 Oct 1997 15:14:29 -0500
From: Mark Mandel Mark[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]DRAGONSYS.COM
Subject: "Bless you"
Ron Butters writes:
No, "Good-bye" does not "really mean" "God be with you" (whatever
its history). It "really means" 'this conversation is over' or 'I
am leaving'. "Bless you," on the other hand, has no meaning at all
(other than 'I am being conventionally polite by uttering this
prayer formula'). The difference is that "Good-bye" serves a
conversational function, while "Bless you" has no primary function
If by "primary function" you mean "conveying information and
regulating its conveyance", I guess so.
Or maybe not. Consider a (mechanical) clock, with a traditional
clockwork mechanism. Describe and name all the parts and their
relationships, build the clock accordingly, and it won't run. What
have you left out? The oil! Not a part, it has no specific
function in the machine except lubrication, reducing friction
where parts move against each other.
Communication does not take place in vacuo, but in a society. That
society's definitions of politeness will affect communication. If
different segments of society have conflicting definitions of
what's polite, misunderstandings and problems will arise, but that
doesn't mean that politeness interferes with or dilutes
communication. By reducing friction, the oil enables the clock to
work; when all parties to a communication agree on the relevant
manifestations of politeness, politeness similarly facilitates
(And it occurs to me that "polite" L. "poli:tus" 'polished',
i.e., smoothed to reduce friction!)
Beverly Flanigan writes:
On "Bless you" specifically: It is of course intended as a
"tail wag" (referred to generally as phatic communication).
Since "phatic" means 'relating to speech', that expression always
looked strange to me, until I discovered that its originator had
not written it! (Whoever it was) wrote "phatic *communion*", which
was misread and misquoted by generations of linguists more ready
to see a word relating to the transmission of information (v.s.)
than to the closeness of souls.
Mark A. Mandel : Senior Linguist : mark[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]dragonsys.com
Dragon Systems, Inc. : speech recognition : +1 617 965-5200
320 Nevada St., Newton, MA 02160, USA : http://www.dragonsys.com/
Personal home page: http://world.std.com/~mam/