The politics of Nice

Robin Tolmach Lakoff


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.

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The Journal of Politeness Research broadens and sharpens the understanding of the nature of politeness by providing a much-needed forum for synergies to develop between researchers approaching politeness from different disciplinary angles. The journal also strengthens and widens the existing cross-cultural and intercultural body of politeness research by encouraging new contributions from lesser-studied cultures and languages.