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What does it mean when too much formality can appear menacing?

Consider the responses when one asks for a lemon:

"Do you have any lemons in your fridge?"

  • "No, sorry"
  • "Nah"
  • "No, I don't think so."
  • "Nope."
  • "Why? Do you need one?"

These responses seem normal or even friendly for some reason. Yet, if I ask,

"Do you have any lemons in your fridge?"

and the response is

  • "No."
  • "No, I don't."
  • "Why?"

These sentences seem different in tone. Something about their length makes them seem much more hostile. Is there a name for what I'm talking about?

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They are more curt than the first set of responses. –  cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Jul 18 '12 at 21:46
2  
The wiki on politeness theory might be an interesting read for you. Longer responses might be indicative of attempts to mitigate face-threatening acts. –  Cameron Jul 18 '12 at 21:50
1  
This question might be good for Writers.SE. My take on it is that overformality implies that you are suspending or ending a previously close relationship. Emotionally speaking, you are (or are threatening to) break it off by talking to the person not as a close friend, but as a stranger. The person being addressed is likely to feel hurt or angry because something of value to them is threatened. –  MετάEd Jul 18 '12 at 22:22
    
@Cameron: 'face-threatening'? Is that the opposite of 'face-saving'? –  Mitch Jul 19 '12 at 3:26
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1 Answer

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The "extended" responses are hedges - a mitigating device used to lessen the impact of an utterance.

Hedges are so common in the context of a (disappointingly) negative reply that failure to use one isn't just "neutral" - it can actually seem hostile.

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