Polite Speech As Expression Of Respect For People

For almost anyone in America, words and phrases like “how are you” and “nice to meet you” are used and heard on a daily basis. When meeting strangers, when talking to a friend, or whatever the circumstances may be, the odds are that one would either use or hear at least one form of polite speech in conversation. If these words/phrases are so common, what makes them so usable and important that they are seemingly a necessity in any American conversation? In America, polite speech’s function is to communicate one’s respect for another person and to display one’s etiquette/politeness. In other words, it can function as a pleasantry towards people in conversation which holds great value in that it conveys one’s respect for the person they are speaking to and often meets the expectations of that person.

In a somewhat normal or perhaps formal conversation greeting an adult with whom you are not very well acquainted with a phrase like “what’s up” doesn’t fit with what the person would be expecting in conversation. On the other hand, greeting them with a phrase like “hello how are you?” would be much more normal and would be polite towards the adult. Some may argue that there is no value in politeness in the sense that using such polite language is only because society enforces it and that it really means nothing. This is untrue, however, especially in certain conversational situations. For example, a 16-year-old applying for a new job addressing their prospective superior or boss with “yo what’s up boss” in their interview would not be polite and would not show proper respect to someone with superiority over themself. Perhaps words/phrases like this only hold value because society enforces it but it seems as though there has to be some deeper value to these words. Talking to elders or superiors in the same way that you would with your friend is not right. It does not display any respect for one’s elders nor does it convey any etiquette whatsoever which is exactly why polite speech has value in its function as a pleasantry and form of proper etiquette in American/English speaking society.

Throughout life, there is great value in being polite to those around you. A kid being rude or speaking informally to their teacher is inappropriate and at the same time, an adult addressing their boss, in the same manner, is also inappropriate. The arguments that attempt to diminish the value of polite speech mostly focus on the notion that polite speech is hollow because there is no meaning behind such phrases when everyone in society repeats them. However, just because something is used by everyone and repeated over and over again does not mean that it loses its meaning. While the point does make sense to a certain extent, ultimately it is wrong because repetitive things like polite speech in society help to ease interactions between other people. How would people make small talk with each other without using polite language? Societal interactions would become much more awkward and harder to deal with if not for polite speech. People have come to expect to be given the pleasantries of polite speech like the phrases “how are you” and “let’s get in touch” as well as others. Like it or not polite speech is here to stay. After decades and decades of using these phrases, they are sure not to disappear. People rely on them to have respectful conversations with people and convey their etiquette. How would one do these things without this language? Whether or not they convey intent is irrelevant because even if such words are used solely to convey politeness they still hold value in that they appease the expectations of people when having conversations.

There are a variety of reasons that polite speech may be used in conversation, to boil the form of speech as a whole into having no value is ridiculous. Quite frankly, it seems many people don’t fully understand polite speech and the complexity of it. Depending on the situation the meaning and intent of such language can shift and change based on who one is speaking to. Arguments that attempt to say that polite speech is pointless to generalize it massively being that while it may be true that in some circumstances polite speech may be unnecessary in others it is very necessary to use. When greeting good friends obviously addressing them with polite speech phrases/words is not necessary given the two people are very close and there are different expectations for what each person would say. However, when meeting someone new from college or your school or your work, using at least some polite speech is nice and holds value in that you are most likely to meet the expectations of what the other person expects you to say. Meeting someone new and using slang and other informal terms to greet them can give them a different or even negative first impression of you which is not beneficial whatsoever.

Polite speech is used for a variety of reasons but most generally are used to convey one’s respect for and etiquette to another person and to serve as a pleasantry when in conversation with others. Polite speech is used on a massive scale in American society because it meets the expectations of others and conveys politeness to whoever one might be speaking to.

07 July 2022
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