Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New words!


Oh, goodie, new words.

I grew up with a person for whom the word "tact" was the past tense of what you do when you affix a note to a bulletin board. I'm sure she thought she was being straightforward and honest. Frankly, I could have done with a few lies and a touch of circuitousness. And now the psychologist Steven Pinker has stepped forward to explain why, in his new book The Stuff of Thought.

This is from a write-up about it, in the current Time Magazine:

"Why don't people just say what they mean? The reason is that conversational partners are not modems downloading information into each other's brains. . .

"The clearest example is ordinary politeness. When you are at a dinner party and want the salt, you don't blurt out, 'Gimme the salt.' Rather, you use what linguists call a whimperative, as in 'Do you think you could pass the salt?' or 'If you could pass the salt that would be awesome.'

"Taken literally, these sentences are inane. The second is an overstatement, and the answer to the first is obvious. Fortunately, the hearer assumes that the speaker is rational and listens between the lines. Yes, your point is to request the salt, but you're doing it in such a way that first takes care to establish what linguists call 'felicity conditions,' or the prerequisites to making a sensible request. Your goal is to have your need satisfied without treating the listener as a flunky who can be bossed around at will."

Whimperatives! Felicity conditions! Don't you just love those?

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everybody here for your damned fine whimperatives, and to say that I deeply appreciate our felicity conditions.



(Photo: The king of the un-whimperative, Basil Fawlty, himself, as played by the incomparable John Cleese.)



35 comments:

Nancy P said...

It's almost midnight at the oasis, put this camel to bed.

GreenMinute said...

Oh:

Wimperative, Nancy!

katiebird said...

Wow!

"Whimperatives! Felicity conditions!"

I am in awe. Whimperatives is great. But, "Felicity Conditions" -- is reminding me of something/someone. I'll have my coffee and hope it comes to me.

I think that there are certain professions that are especially drawn to these concepts. (naming no names)

coffee.

Beth said...

Great new words, Nancy! I love it. I will now start listening to myself, trying to avoid using whimperatives - because I know I am exceedingly guilty, depending on my mood. Some days I address the world as though I belong; others, I slink through, hoping no one will step on me as I pass.

Morning, everyone!

GreenMinute said...

G' morning, Katie bird. I'm guessing:

Bus driver?

GreenMinute said...

Hi, Beth!

Ooh, what about Benderrogatives?

This is when you ask drunks where they've been.

GreenMinute said...

And who they were with.

And where the hells the car and
what happened to your shoes.

katiebird said...

Beth, I can't imagine you slinking through life!

Greenminute? Bus Drivers? I hadn't thought of them. Do they have time to set up Felicity Conditions?

Beth said...

Green, Jack Mosley sang a song at the Parrothead meeting last night that fits this comment. It's called, "Who am I, where am I, and who the hell are you?" :-)

Oh kb, you'd be surprised at how meek I can be. In my professional life I'm a lion - in my personal life, a mouse. But I'm working on becoming a braver mouse!

GreenMinute said...

"Who am I, where am I, and who the hell are you?"

Beth, I think I said this to a judge once.

GreenMinute said...

Uh, wait a second...

Parrotheads have meetings?????

Beth said...

Hey, "meeting" is a loose term. :-)I went to one last night - talked about it on my blog. A good time was had by all!

Judge, hmmm? (shaking head)

Nancy P said...

You guys are funny! Even before I've had any coffee. May I ask you to pass the cream, please?

Beth said...

I think green added some funny cream to his coffee this morning...

AndiF said...

Ah, the perfect post for me to apologize to Nancy that I have no true Blue Dot photos from this summer's vacation and can only offer this one up as a poor imitation.

I'm really, really sorry.

Nancy P said...

A Red Dot?? You give me a Red Dot?!
Sacreligious! No amount of whimperatives will mollify me, but I do have to say that is a beautiful and felicitous condition in that photo.

(The Blue Dot is a minor deity who shows up sometimes in andif's hiking photos wearing andif's blue shirt.)

Beth said...

Thanks for the clarification, Nancy. I was a wee bit confused...but then, what else is new? Still a great picture, andif!

Can you tell I'm not getting any work done this morning? Guess I need to excuse myself and hit the coffeepot as well...

Jungle Red Writers said...

I don't know about felicity conditions, but whimperative is going straight into my vocabulary, maybe as a neat adjective to describe the tones of sucking-up?
~jan brogan

GreenMinute said...

OMG,

gorgeous photo, Andif!

Nancy P said...

lol, Jan!

I will never again be able to ask somebody to pass the salt without feeling like a whimpering puppy.

AndiF said...

Actually -- she corrects in a non-whimpering fashion -- the blue is because Jim usually takes these shots when he's behind me and my hat (which has recently been replaced) and backpack (still around) are blue.

(And Nancy and greenminute, I'll politely send your compliments on to Jim.)

Nancy P said...

I can't believe I forgot it's your hat, and not your shirt. I whimperatively beg the Blue Dot's forgiveness. :) (ingratiating smile)

Nancy P said...

Another error, I whimper. I had John Cleese, in the photo, identified as Cleeves.

Please pass me the brains, Cleeves.

Hat tip to my lurker friend "T" for noticing!

Kelly McCullough said...

Morning, and mourning-no more blue-dot hat! Oh noes. (Waves from treadmill) Whimperatives...nice. I'm more of a boarding-house reach guy, but I'm also a Minnesotan, so I apologize about it once I've got the salt in hand.

Kelly McCullough said...

Oh, and FAR, if you tune in today. What Nancy said yesterday. You'll do it.

Nancy P said...

kelly, lol. That's a line that Garrison Keillor would probably love to steal.

Andi, we may have to chip in to get you a new blue hat. It's a wonder the earth hasn't spun off its axis.

AndiF said...

What a kind offer, Nancy.

However, as we all know, the Blue Dot is not concerned with Her corporal representation but only with the magnificence of Her state of Being. Therefore, no matter what color her hat is in the ephemera, It Is Always Blue. (Or "How to be felicitous without whimpering.")

Nancy P said...

But, but. . .we miss the hat! It's like Buddha without his cushion, Jesus without his beard, Lao without his T'su.

The Blue Dot IS the felicitous condition.

FARfetched said...

Ha, I do that from time to time, but I'm being silly and everyone knows it. "Pass the salt, please," is the quoteproperunquote request as I learned it.

Of course, the people I eat with most often know I won't ask for salt, anyway. :-P

And Kelly, thanks. As I said in a follow-up in yesterday's thread, I'll do my best to not let y'all down.

boran2 said...

Oh, I'm posting at the very bottom of this ginormous column of comments. Late to the party, once again.

katiebird said...

Hi Boran! Not as late as me.

Wait, I see my name over to the left as I type. This has been the longest day!

I feel a Whimperative to say, "I've been in a training session all day and I'm too tired to say anything really witty."

But, I loved Andi's & Jim's photo. And seeing FAR and Beth (I've GOT to get over to her place -- I'm guessing there will be something parroty there) AND Kelly!

AND Jungle Red Writers -- (Have we met?), I love the idea of Whimperatives too!

Nancy P said...

I always look forward to you closing out the day, b2. Buenas noches!

Y tu, tambien, katiebird!

Beth said...

Waving goodnight from the Right Coast...

1118 words today - which doesn't include the changes I had to make TWICE because my stupid laptop lost them - this Toshiba is the bane of my existence. If I put it under my pillow, will the Laptop Fairy bring me a new one?

Anyway, night all! Thanks for your friendship and support. More fun tomorrow.

Nancy P said...

'Night Beth. Great work today! I'll ask my Toshiba to have a firm word with your Toshiba.

FARfetched said...

Beth: was it the Toshiba, or the program you're using to write? If it's the former, the only writing I lose on my Mac is to browser crashes in blog comments.

Personally, I've gone back to doing a lot of first draft stuff on paper — I don't worry about carrying my laptop with me everywhere and can jot something down if it comes to me.