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2007 09 17 Andrew’s term of the week

Monday, September 17th, 2007
By: Andrew

Not a single word this week.

Illocutionary force: the property of an utterance with the intention to cause a certain act.

Again a linguistic nerdy term, my wife is loving these posts. This is one of my favorites though. Here is an example: If I come to your house in the dead of winter and I say “Man, it sure is cold in here.” I could be making a simple statement of fact– “My body nervous sensory is detecting a displeasing lack of thermal energy.” If you would respond with a raised eyebrow, you are not catching the illocutionary force. What I likely mean is, “Turn up the heat, yo!” I intend you to perform an act, not to agree with me about the temperature. In many places it is considered more polite to make a statement of fact rather than a request for action when you are a guest. In this way you are not imposing upon your host, but you act as if it was their idea to turn up the heat.

My grandmother is a master of this concept. She might say, “Doesn’t it seem disorganized in here?” Does she really want an answer…. not likely. But this is not simply a rhetorical question. She expects me to clean something up or she wouldn’t have said anything. That implied action is the illocutionary force. Now that you know the great power of these words, may the force be with you.

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