Discourse politeness question

James Harbeck jharbeck at SYMPATICO.CA
Thu Mar 20 03:09:44 UTC 2008

>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       ronbutters at AOL.COM
>Subject:      Discourse politeness question
>I recently composed an e-mail that read as does (1) below. Then I
>re-read it, and it sounded a bit brusque; so I emended it to (2).
>  My question: Why does the addition of two words that denote greater
>urgency actually mitigate the patronizing effect of the plainer
>Hi Peter,
>I'd like to have your thoughts on this.
>Hi Peter,
>I'd like very much to have your thoughts on this.

You're put in a position of greater need, for one thing. You're
saying you'd like it, which puts you at a deficit in the
transactional economy, but "I'd like" is conventionalized as an
implied imperative; when you add "very much" it emphasizes your
deficit position in the transactional economy as it uses a
lower-frequency phrasing that thus underlines more your actual
transactional deficit position. Also, there's the more words = less
direct thing, which isn't universally reliable but probably plays in

That's my guess, anyway. I'm as interested as you are to know other
lines of thought on this.

James Harbeck.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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