Bores, Babblers and Buffoons

We speak for two reasons. One is to convey information, but what we say is often phatic, meaning that what we say is said to affirm that we are on some sort of “speaking terms” with the one we say it to. If I were to meet you on a sultry street, both of us bearing the sheen and stains of ample sweat, and if I (mopping my brow with a sodden handkerchief) were to observe that the day was a mite warm, the remark would be phatic. Insofar as information goes, this would be “needless to say.”

But I would not be talking about the weather. I would be talking about us.

My remark would serve to acknowledge that I knew you, and that our connection was of the sort were meteorological pleasantries are not out of order. They are neither offensively forward, as they might be if offered to a perfect stranger, nor offensively reserved, as they might be if offered, without embellishment, to a dear friend.

Now there is a portion of our race, predominantly male, who do not understand, and are often intensely irritated by, phatic speech. And there is another portion, predominantly female, who seem not know there is any other kind.

When a man does not understand phatic speech and is not naturally taciturn, he will become a bore. To a bore, every conversation is an invitation to impart information. Undeterred by conspicuous boredom in his audience, he resembles a university lecturer, and very often is one.

When a woman does not understand expository speech and is not naturally reticent, she will become a babbler. Whatever her ostensible topic (and because the topic does not matter, it will change often and without warning), she is simply affirming that she and whomever she happens to be speaking to are on some sort of speaking terms.

My sense is that Facebook is for babblers and that blogging is for bores. Posting a photograph of my lunch is obviously phatic, since a photograph of my sore toe would serve the purpose just as well. Posting five hundred words on the difference between phatic and expository speech is just as obviously the handiwork of a bore.

I now see that I need a third category of speech that is uttered to amuse. Bores and babblers can be amusing, but pure amusement is on offer from buffoons. I must note that most of us have more patience for buffoons than we do for bores and babblers, and more patience with bores and babblers who hospitably spike their chatter with buffoonery.

8 thoughts on “Bores, Babblers and Buffoons

  1. Pingback: Bores, Babblers and Buffoons | Reaction Times

  2. Now there is a portion of our race, predominantly male, who do not understand, and are often intensely irritated by, phatic speech.

    Why does one have to pay attention to phatic speech? I mean to the substantive content. We both know that I don’t care what you think about the weather or the local sportsball team. We both know that you don’t care what color I am painting my family room or where I am going this weekend. We both know that neither one of us is going to say anything remotely interesting, even that saying something interesting would be a faux pas. So, what’s the point of paying enough attention that we can make relevant comments and ask relevant questions about the other’s phatic speech?

    The actual information content of the conversation is conveyed by the fact that it is happening, by the tone of voice, by the facial expressions: by things which can be apprised with a glance in an instant and without penetrating to the intricacies of which of your slovenly children you are telling boastful lies about and how these lies relate to previous ones or to the ones your neighbor tells.

    I suppose the answer is that the paying attention is costly to me, and that I thereby demonstrate that my relationship to you, however tenuous, is of value to me.

  3. My mind tends to wander during phatic speech, and when this is evident the phatic speaker seems to mind. And I suppose I like to be at least somewhat attended to when passing the time of day. I think you are right about the cost. This is why inquiring after the health or doings of their family members by name is so much appreciated. Remembering their wife’s name and that she suffers from sciatica demonstrates an investment of effort on my part. It’s a very small sort of gift.

  4. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkhaton 05/19/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores

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