Date: Fri, 24 Oct 1997 15:14:29 -0500


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]

Dragon Systems, Inc. : speech recognition : +1 617 965-5200

320 Nevada St., Newton, MA 02160, USA :

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