Over at Macmillan Dictionary Blog I have a couple of new posts on language matters. You’re the one for me, phatic offers an overview of phatic communion, a useful term from anthropology that refers to speech intended to establish or maintain social relations (as opposed to simply exchanging information):
A familiar example (and subset) is small talk, where people exchange greetings, good wishes, congratulations, and trivialities about the weather, recent sporting events, the state of the world, and so on.
Everyday greetings, such as How’s it going? and How are you doing?, are more about presenting a friendly attitude to someone than extracting answers from them, just as the replies – Fine, thanks, etc. – are usually stereotyped and automatic rather than necessarily being accurate indications of a person’s state. Though disliked by some people, small talk is a valuable social signalling system, as is phatic communion more generally.
The article also notes the origin of the term phatic and describes manifestations of the phenomenon in Ireland.
Laying down the lie of the land addresses a knotty issue in English usage: the difference – and overlap – between lay and lie:
In standard English lay is transitive; that is, it takes a direct object (certain idioms excepted). You don’t just lay – you lay something. But this is a relatively recent rule, and it is very often ignored, especially in speech and informal use, where people frequently talk about laying down, laying on the floor, and so on. . . .
For many people lay meaning ‘lie’ isn’t wrong at all – it’s what comes naturally. But its use in edited prose invites criticism from those who learned the rule and want to see it observed as a mark of proper English. Like many contentious usage issues, it boils down to context and personal preference.
I look briefly at the history of this pair, noting that intransitive lay is over seven centuries old and only relatively recently became a usage to be avoided in careful prose.
Comments are welcome in either location, and older posts are available in the archive.