Tuesday 3 September 2019

Phatic Haptic Part 2

This is the second - completely unconnected - part of a riff on a 6-letter anagram combo. Part 1 on Haptic Gloves and AI interfaces.  I am a bit of a fanboy for Tom Scott who has a much bigger following (on youtube) than The Blob. I've cited his work before, not least because he usually manages to get his point across in less than five minutes. At the beginning of August, Scott published a piece-to-camera about phatic expressions. These are the verbal equivalent of two primates riffling through each other's fur looking for lice and skin flakes as appetizers for a more substantial dinner. For the primates, reducing the load of ectoparasites is a positive evolutionary benefit but the primary purpose of the activity is demonstrable active care-and-attention between two relatives / allies.

I've been interested in phatic expressions for a while; especially since I noticed how much of human conversation consists solely or mainly of such content-free babble. Tom Scott cites the common greetings: How are you? ➙ How're you? ➙ How r ya? ➙ Howya ➙ Hiya. When I started work at The Institute Hiya was my standard corridor greeting for acquaintances. But it elicited "Fine thanks, and you?" too often for comfort [as if I really cared tuppence if they'd had a domestic argument over breakfast]. So I switched to G'day even if I wasn't fitted out like Crocodile Dundee.

But what really disturbed me was listening to people talking in class, in the canteen, on the wireless. An awful lot of the word-count was repeating the end of the one person's sentence and maybe adding a bit to the end as the other'scontribution. All it means is that I am listening, I heard what you had to say, you are sagacious, generous and my friend . . . I do not intend in the near future to assault you with this plate of salad . . . nor will I seek small invertebrates about your person. The trouble is that, once heard, you cannot avoid hearing this vapid prattle all the time. It's not all bad though, it shows that you can get to a +50% fluency in any foreign language; enough to win friends and influence people with maybe 200 words of formulaic clichés. In these WEA islands, you're off to a great start if you know a few weather-related phrases: Brutal . . . lashing . . . brrrr chilly . . . phew wot a scorcher . . . worst/best/wettest Summer since records began.

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