The smallest talk

The smallest talk

Exchanging small talk with people we’ve just met may be an unfortunate necessity, but with people we already know, it seems to suggest that they’re people to whom we have nothing to say. And yet if small talk is just talk that’s idle, insignificant and without stated purpose, then surely a substantial portion of the chatter that goes on between couples, friends and (or especially) families must count as small.

That’s Dora Zhang in a recent piece for The Point, digging deep on small talk, a social necessity, if not a linguistic oddity, in everyday social encounters.

But as our talk – from small to significant – moves substantially online when we can’t be co-present, small talk appears in digital expressions as well. Take email. There is:

The non-purposeful opening

  1. I hope you’re well.
  2. I hope this note finds you well.
  3. Hoping you had a great weekend.
  4. Hope you had a good trip.

The openings, so full of hope, that we layer into our email are a kind of linguistic greasing the wheel. While it’s meaningful for people to state social intention, to do some social grooming, these openings may be presumptuous. After all, this past weekend, the goldfish may have died, the car broke down, the game may have been rained out. When opening with small talk, consider how your subtle well wishes may be received. Then there is:

The aspirational closing

  1. Hope you get some rest.
  2. Hope the weather lets up.
  3. Hope to see you soon.
  4. Hoping you have a great weekend.

These aspirational closings help keep our conversations going; they’re necessary social cues that indicate we’re departing from the conversation and bid the person well. When they’re genuine and followed up on next exchange, even better.

The opposite of small talk isn’t big talk, but no talk.” And while we are undergoing an age of big talk, big topics, big data, more, I, for one, am all for more meaning — talk or no talk. Hope you are too.