I am looking for a word which describes meaningless exchanges in conversation e.g. "How are you doing?" "Good, good, you?" "Good." "See you later." That is, in the asking of "How are you?" there is no expectation to find out how the person is actually doing - a perfunctory "good" is anticipated and expected. That is, passing exchanges where little to nothing is actually said or inquired.

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    These are called pleasantries. – Anonym Oct 23 '16 at 21:21
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    Perfunctory (which you used) is already great descriptive word for these kinds of exchanges. – GoldenGremlin Oct 23 '16 at 21:22
  • @Anonym There are various things they could be called. Pleasantries is one, but such terms as perfunctory greetings, inconsequential introductions, and no doubt a dozen more could be used. – WS2 Oct 23 '16 at 21:24
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    In some cases you could also say 'platitudes' - a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful. – max pleaner Oct 24 '16 at 6:13
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    I would support pleasantries, as proposed by @Anonym, for the introductory exchanges, such as "Nice day!", but that does not fit the meaningless patter that peppers conversation throughout social gatherings. See "smalltalk" below for that usage. Your first phrase, "meaningless exchanges" seems inclusive of the latter (though the examples don't). So, you may need to clarify the question. – jaxter Oct 24 '16 at 7:29

There is actually a word that describes precisely this type of chitchat: you're looking for the word phatic.

phat·ic /ˈfatik/ adj.
denoting or relating to language used for general purposes of social interaction, rather than to convey information or ask questions. Utterances such as hello, how are you? and nice morning, isn't it? are phatic.

(From Oxford Dictionaries Online, my emphasis)

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    This sounds like a nice answer but is unlikely to fetch you up-votes as it does not adhere to the expected format. Please consider taking the site tour and revising your answer. – alwayslearning Oct 24 '16 at 2:57
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    What @alwayslearning is alluding to is more specifically that quotes must always be properly attributed so it's easy for readers to judge the source of the information quoted. I've added in a source in this answer. I've also added a bit of extra ‘meat’ to the bit that's not a quote, just to avoid this being an answer that consists almost exclusively of a quote—we like to see people provide their own arguments for why their answer fits. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 24 '16 at 13:00
  • Thanks for helping with the edits. I couldn't help but create an account and jump on this question when I saw it. In my enthusiasm, I just tried to roughly match the style of some other answers rather than actually read and adhere to answer standards material first. I'll read up before I contribute again. – A. Rex Sutton Oct 24 '16 at 19:53
  • "Phatic" most answers to what I was looking for - thank you! And thank you to all who commented. – Britainy Kralicek Oct 24 '16 at 23:49

While such exchanges are usually referred to as small talk, a single word that means much the same thing is chatter:

chatter, n.: continuous fast informal talk, usually about unimportant subjects

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    @Gnawme Not sure if the OP wants only the introductory greetings, or all types of exchanges that are eminently forgettable between people. I would agree that "smalltalk" covers the latter. – jaxter Oct 24 '16 at 7:25

What you call meaningless conversation is a chapter in "social conventions".

A convention is a set of agreed, stipulated, or generally accepted standards, norms, social norms, or criteria, often taking the form of a custom. In a social context, a convention may retain the character of an "unwritten law" of custom (for example, the manner in which people greet each other, such as by shaking each other's hands). Wikipedia

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des·ul·to·ry ˈdesəlˌtôrē/Submit adjective lacking a plan, purpose, or enthusiasm. "a few people were left, dancing in a desultory fashion" synonyms: casual, cursory, superficial, token, perfunctory, half-hearted, lukewarm; More (of conversation or speech) going constantly from one subject to another in a halfhearted way; unfocused. "the desultory conversation faded"

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  • I didn't get the sense of futility / going through the motions despite not wanting to, that desultory connotes, from the OP's question, though that's a great word in a lot of contexts. Sadly. – jaxter Oct 24 '16 at 7:32


ban•ter (ˈbæn tər) n. 1. an exchange of light, playful remarks; good-natured raillery. v.t. 2. to address with banter; chaff. v.i. 3. to use banter.


If the banter is fairly banal then it can be referred to as meaningless banter

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  • I think the essential element of "banter" is that is it meant to be funny (even if it includes deliberate insults). The OP's examples are not banter. A good example of banter was from an England-Australia cricket match where an English player was attacked by a wasp. Somebody in the crowd shouted "Hey, stop trying to kill that wasp - it's the only friend that you have in this sports stadium!" – alephzero Oct 24 '16 at 13:09
  • I think banter is also just lighthearted chatter, not always hilariously funny... – RemarkLima Oct 24 '16 at 13:15

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