Phatic is Phat

Posted by on Mar 8, 2007 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments


Pic courtesy

I’m no hip-hop guru but I was struck the other day by the strange similarity between the old school slang P H A T (a portmanteau ‘cool’ word) and Phatic the kind of conversation which is apparently content-free (or at least “lite”) but is all about the relationship between two folk.

The great Polish anthropologist, Bronislaw Malinowski coined the phatic word to describe this kind of interaction. God forbid, someone in your team responds to your polite enquiry and actually tells you how they are today. Or that someone challenges your assertion that it’s a lovely day today. That would be neither PHAT nor Phatic…


  1. Charles Edward Frith
    March 8, 2007

    I always work under the assumption that someone will occasionally surprise me and answer (em)phatic(ally) that they are having a bad day to which I will always ask why 🙂 It’s true.

  2. Christian Steckroth
    March 8, 2007

    Dear Mr Earls,
    I would like to tell you that I am still enjoying to read herd. And I have a question that I wouldn`t like to post here. If you have the time to get in touch with me I`ll be very pleased.
    Christian Steckroth

  3. hugh macleod
    March 8, 2007

    I also see a connection between Malinowski’s “Kula”, Jyri Engstrom’s “Social Objects”, and Mark Earls’ “Purpose-Idea”.
    A P-I is a form of Kula, I suppose. A way for people to connect with each other. A conversation starter, an enabler of storytelling, as it were. Which is what Engstrom [a young anthropologist who used to work for Nokia] talks about with Web 2.0 “Social Objects”.
    Am I way off?
    PS. Please forgive my rambling…

  4. hugh macleod
    March 8, 2007

    PS: “The Hughtrain” came about while I was reading “Bananas”…

  5. Mark Earls
    March 8, 2007

    You’re dead right about the similarity or rathe overlap between these ideas (although I must admit I hadn’t read either M or E’s ideas til recently).
    Like you say in the Hughtrain, we seek meaning – social meaning – to construct our lives around. All 3 concepts – as I understand them – talk to this social aspect firs and foremost.
    PS A couple of years ago I discovered an australian expression – “p***ing in someone’s pocket” – in other words, to create that delicious warm feeling through kind words. Am blushing, quietly to myself now at your kind words. Thanks

  6. Great Face
    March 9, 2007

    That’s why I just grunt.

  7. Charles Frith
    July 20, 2007

    More on this over at Grant McCracken’s Cultureby.