Communities

Writing
Writing
Codidact Meta
Codidact Meta
The Great Outdoors
The Great Outdoors
Photography & Video
Photography & Video
Scientific Speculation
Scientific Speculation
Cooking
Cooking
Electrical Engineering
Electrical Engineering
Judaism
Judaism
Languages & Linguistics
Languages & Linguistics
Software Development
Software Development
Mathematics
Mathematics
Christianity
Christianity
Code Golf
Code Golf
Music
Music
Physics
Physics
Linux Systems
Linux Systems
Power Users
Power Users
Tabletop RPGs
Tabletop RPGs
Notifications
Mark all as read
Q&A

Calling another by name when one is exasperated

+7
−0

In my English-speaking culture, when two people are in conversation, usually we don't bother addressing each other by name—or even by any substitutive term of address, like ‘sir’/‘ma'am’ (formal) or ‘bud’ (informal)—once we have each other's attention, unless there's a power/status differential and the subservient party is leaning into the bowing and scraping.

But there's one exception that's interesting to me that happens among equals: when one party is exasperated, they can express this by using the other party's name where it would otherwise not be needed or used. I do it reflexively; I can't really articulate why or how it communicates ‘my patience is thin’. (Ex: ‘Don't forget about the Smiths visiting tomorrow.’ ‘Yes, Alex, I won't forget about the Smiths! You've reminded me six times today!’)

Does this phenomenon have a name? How widespread is it among Anglophones, and how old is it? Does it occur in other languages or is it specific to some subset of Anglophone cultures?

Why does this post require moderator attention?
You might want to add some details to your flag.
Why should this post be closed?

0 comment threads

1 answer

+6
−0

This usage seems to be common not only in English, but in Western cultures in general. (The two parties do not need to be on first name terms for this pattern to work: "Oh, Mister Bennet! Have some compassion on my poor nerves!" and so the availability of the pattern is unaffected by T-V distinctions common to many European languages.)

If you choose to treat substitutes like "sir" or "my dear" on par with personal names, the pattern is probably universal. However, there seem to be cultures (and thus languages) where the use of a person's name to address them is considered impolite, i.e., where the applicable "substitutes" are no longer substitutes for personal names, but rather the only unmarked way to address people.

The part of linguistics that is concerned more with the context of an utterance than with its own "structure" and (inherent) "meaning", is called pragmatics. Then there is conversation analysis, either considered a part of pragmatics (and thus linguistics), or a field adjacent to pragmatics, part of sociolinguistics which lies on the boundary between linguistics and sociology.

In the terminology of this article, there are two main types of vocatives within a conversation structure: a summons, or an address. The pattern you have in mind is a special kind of an address.

In a conversation among several people, an address is often used as part of a turn taking protocol; the speaker is expected to "pass the turn" to the named person at the end of the utterance. This particular function is not needed in a dyadic conversation (just two people), so other common functions of the address dominate the usage: to show politeness, to show intimacy, to show power differential, to reflect on the other person's identity.

If either party is exasperated, it's eventually going to show in some way; if it doesn't, they were merely annoyed. I am not sure whether "showing exasperation" is always a communication objective in itself; in certain conversational situations involving exasperation, an address of the other party could sometimes be showing intimacy in an attempt to reset a fruitless discussion; in another situation, an address could be used to make room for a "repair" sequence if there are hopes that the other party might salvage the conversation by amending or disambiguating some part of what they already said.

Personal names, in particular, are some of the more attention catching forms of address, and thus especially attractive ones in the contingency of exasperation, but they are not alone in that group. "I beg you, sir," or "you bastard" can, where applicable, provide the attention catching function just as well. Such a phrase can serve the various other functions of the address mentioned previously as well as a personal name can, depending on the circumstances.

Why does this post require moderator attention?
You might want to add some details to your flag.

0 comment threads

Sign up to answer this question »

This community is part of the Codidact network. We have other communities too — take a look!

You can also join us in chat!

Want to advertise this community? Use our templates!

Like what we're doing? Support us! Donate