What would the word be for a list of phrases you would say to someone if they posted that something negative happened to them? People reply things like

sorry to hear that
hope you're ok

but you're not looking for sympathy or pity. What’s the word beginning with P to group those phrases that I can't think of?


1 Answer 1


Phatic Expressions

The p-word you’re looking here for is phatic, as in phatic expressions. Basically, formulaic small talk expected for politeness’ sake. Although the word derives from Ancient Greek ϕατός meaning spoken, the OED says that it’s only been used in English this way for around a century. They give this sense for it:

Of, designating, or relating to speech, utterances, etc., that serve to establish or maintain social relationships rather than to impart information, communicate ideas, etc.; esp. in phatic communion noun, speech communication of this kind; (also) trivial or purely formal verbal contact.

Two of their citations may help illustrate this meaning:

  • 1923 There can be no doubt that we have here a new type of linguistic use—phatic communion I am tempted to call it,..a type of speech in which ties of union are created by a mere exchange of words.
    ―B. Malinowski in C. K. Ogden & I. A. Richards, Meaning of Meaning 478
  • 2010 Jakobson (1960) characterizes the ‘phatic function’ of language as its use to focus on the channel of communication itself, rather than on the information conveyed by the language code.
    ―L. Cummings, Routledge Pragmatics Encyclopedia at Phatic Communion

Wikipedia has an article on these which begins with:

In linguistics, a phatic expression (English: /ˈfætɪk/, FAT-ik) is a communication which primarily serves to establish or maintain social relationships. In other words, phatic expressions have mostly socio-pragmatic rather than semantic functions. They can be observed in everyday conversational exchanges,[ as in, for instance, exchanges of social pleasantries that do not seek or offer information of intrinsic value but rather signal willingness to observe conventional local expectations for politeness.

The article has further discussion about these, along with many other examples and contexts in which they occur.

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