Grice on Flouts

adapted from Myers, pp 42 - 44
Paul Grice, the Cooperative Principle

We can make sense of things said in conversation only if we assume those we are talking to are trying to cooperate.

to tell the truth
to say as much as we need to know
to make what they say relevant to what we are talking about
to say is as clearly as possible

But people don't always fulfill these principles, either by intent or inattentiveness.

they lie
say to little or too much
make seemingly irrelevant remarks
and make them obscurely.

Speaker or rhetors can intentionally violate any these principles without signaling they are doing so. These tend to be considered deceit.

violation of quality - a lie, for instance. Works only when undetected.
violation of quantity - to say less then is necessary. Deceit by omission. Use of the passive.
violation of relation - to bring in unrelated info. red herring, distraction, attempts to change the subject
violation of manner - to use language to obscure: jargon, overly complex sentences, tone of voice

Just as in speech, bloggers generally use links according to the cooperative principle - where the link text

tells the truth
says as much as we need to know
makes it clear that the link is relevant to what we are talking about
makes the connection as clearly as possible.

But sometimes bloggers don't.


More interesting is violating a communicative principle in such a way that it's apparent that the principle is being violated. This is a flout. The reader is not deceived because the violation is part of the message. The way the flout is used suggests an attitude or commentary on the link target: an implicature.

Myers sees these flouts as enactments of wit.

We use and encounter flouts in everyday speech. Like all wit, flouts are highly situated and contextual. We use various techniques to indicate that a remark is a flout rather than a violation - and some techniques can indicate a flout in more than one category. What category it falls into is determined by analyzing the context.

Some examples

A listener might mis-interpret the use of a flout (that's another angle), but if the evidence that the flout is operative is present in the message, we can still consider it a flout.

A rhetor might unintentionally create a flout (an unintentional pun or misspelling may create an implicature for the reader). The indicator is that the use is not to deceive.

A third possibility is that the flout does not call attention to itself as a flout, as in the case of a pun presented in a dead-pan manner. For purposes of analysis, we note that the flout is present, even if we might consider that receiver won't notice it.

While flouts occur in speech, flouts in writing, as in links and elsewhere in blogs or tweets, can be readily seen and worked with because they are stabilized in the context.

Two Examples from Myers

A flout of quality. A link on one of the blogger's sites use Dick Cheney as link text, but the link leads to a parody site. We are not supposed to read this as a lie but as a comment on the topic. It might initially look like deceit but because of the overstatement of the target, it's a flout of quality. A consideration of the target site shows that the link is a flout of quality rather than a violation of quality.

When we detect the incongruity between the link text and the site, we're prompted to make sense of the flout, to see the link to the parody site as an unstated proposition: an implicature. That is, the flout creates an unstated attitude, valuation, or commentary.

A more subtle use is when the link text creates overstatement, such as Myers's example on p 43: deep mourning. The overstatement in the link text signals that the blogger doesn't believe this is true, and so implies that the link text is mocking the article. This is a flout in relation.

It's our job, as e-rhetorical critics, to locate flouts and articulate the unstated proposition, to show when it's happening and how they work.

Continue analyses for flouts

Review your posts for flouts. Catalog the occurrence of flouts, and make articulate the unstated propositions.

As always, watch for patterns in flouts: patterns of kinds, patterns of occasion, patterns of implicature.

Refer to Myers, p 42 - 45

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