phat·​ic ˈfa-tik How to pronounce phatic (audio)
: of, relating to, or being speech used for social or emotive purposes rather than for communicating information
phatically adverb

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Phatic Has Greek Roots

Phatic was coined in the early 20th century by people who apparently wanted to label a particular quirk of human communication-the tendency to use certain rote phrases (such as the standard greeting "how are you?") merely to establish a social connection without sharing any actual information. It probably won't surprise you, then, to learn that phatic derives from the Greek phatos, a form of the verb phanai, meaning "to speak." Other descendants of "phanai" in English include "apophasis" ("the raising of an issue by claiming not to mention it"), "euphemism," "prophet," and the combining suffix -phasia (used to denote a speech disorder). You may also have spotted a similarity to "emphatic," but that turns out to be purely coincidence; "emphatic" traces back to a different Greek verb which means "to show."

Examples of phatic in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web So what is phatic language? Bryan A. Garner, National Review, 10 June 2021 And second, in so doing, the performance opens the door to a new kind of phatic greeting. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, 28 Oct. 2022 Those kinds of phatic greetings don’t really concern themselves with an interlocutor’s state of being or mind, but simply exercise etiquette and social courtesy. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, 28 Oct. 2022 Thanks to the acquisition of an artificial intelligence company in Cambridge, England, called Evi, Alexa was already proficient in the culturally common chitchat called phatic speech. Brad Stone, Wired, 11 May 2021 Those greetings are but a few examples of phatic language from Early Modern English (1500 to 1699). Bryan A. Garner, National Review, 10 June 2021 Then the rest of the interchange floods with phatic channel-management. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, 29 Mar. 2021

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'phatic.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Greek phatos, verbal of phanai to speak

First Known Use

1922, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of phatic was in 1922


Dictionary Entries Near phatic

Cite this Entry

“Phatic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Jun. 2024.

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