Robin Tolmach Lakoff
July 27, 2005
Previous discussions of politeness have focused on its function in dyadic encounters. But this basically private and individual set of strategies has uses in public and group contexts, in the behavior of persons in the public eye and the interpretation of the utterances of these figures. Americans increasingly expect their politicians, especially presidents, to be Nice (i. e., behave according to the principles of politeness, especially positive politeness). Two reasons are suggested for this novelty: the obscuring of the line between public and private , in favor of the latter, over the last 50 years; and the increasing presence of women, historically restricted to private discourse, as participants in United States public activity. Examples are examined of the use (and abuse) of Niceness-related criteria in recent electoral campaign rhetoric; and as explanations of other current non-electoral strange cases, in particular the media treatments of Nancy Pelosi and Martha Stewart.