Based on what Wikipedia tells me, a “phatic” expression is one whose only function is to perform a social task, as opposed to conveying information. For example, often in our daily lives we’ll say to someone, “What’s up?” The other person might respond with “How’s it going?” While technically these are questions, they can also be thought of as rhetorical ones, thus phatic expressions.
However (and maybe I’m too literal), I’m not a fan of people greeting one another like this. If I ask you “What’s up?,” dammit, I want to know what is up. If I ask you “How’s it going?,” dammit, I want to know how it is going. If I didn’t want the answers to these questions, I wouldn’t ask them.
So, if you’re sick and tired of people not answering your non-rhetorical implied-rhetorical greetings/questions, perhaps we need to make some changes/additions to our everyday language.
I don’t know if it was my friend Bozzzy, or someone else who introduced it, but I’m glad I’ve started asking people “How’s your life?” It’s way less vanilla of an expression than the ones mentioned above, and almost begs for some sort of genuine response. What I specifically like is it’s open-endedness, giving whomever you’re talking to the opportunity to answer however he/she wants to.
What’s up?/How’s it going? —- that’s waste-of-time small talk.
How’s your life? —- Now there’s language that can propel us right into a real conversation.