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What's the name for a part of speech which is not quite rhetorical, but not expected to be answered directly, either? I know the word exists, it refers to greetings such as "How are you" and similar. There's a very specific term for those greetings and I cannot recall it.

It's not perfunctory or pro forma; it very specifically refers to a common query that isn't really a question but a conversation opener. Might be from a specialized field like linguistics.

Frustrating!

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    Why is this a part of speech? Parts of speech don't imply a specific meaning. (That is, if you tell me something is a prepositional phrase, I'm not going to assume that it's necessarily a rhetorical device.) – SrJoven Oct 21 '14 at 16:31
  • If one asks a rhetorical question, one is not expected to receive an answer. If one is looking for an unanswerable question (What's the sound of one hand clapping?) that may be an existential question. Or is it an icebreaker? (What's a 2 ton penguin?). – SrJoven Oct 21 '14 at 16:53
  • Parts of speech, also called word classes, are nouns, verbs, adjectives etc. Your use of the term part of speech is incorrect. – rogermue Oct 21 '14 at 17:20
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Phatic?

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phatic_expression

From W3: employing or involving speech for the purpose of revealing or sharing feelings or establishing an atmosphere of sociability rather than for communicating ideas greetings, bromides, phatic communion— I.A.Richards indulged in a little phatic communion and were about to part— M.J.Maloney transition from the symbolic level to the phatic— Arthur Minton

  • More precisely, phatic expression. – ermanen Oct 21 '14 at 16:32
  • referencing – SrJoven Oct 21 '14 at 16:36
  • "Phatic" was the term I've been seeking, thanks! I can't vote the answer up yet but it's appreciated. – SJester Oct 21 '14 at 17:23
  • @SJester: You can choose as an answer (without up-voting). – ermanen Oct 21 '14 at 17:54

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