Pragmatics and Society 6 (1):1-21 (2015)

Abstract
While compliments are usually intended to give credit and insults offense, the latter cannot simply be treated as opposites of the former. For example, a speaker can give credit to others as well as himself/herself. But while a speaker can offend others, it is less clear that a speaker can offend himself/herself. Understanding why this should be so provides us with a key insight into the nature of insults, namely, that it is predicated on the presumption that some dissimilarity exists between the speaker and the target of the insult. Various interesting implications follow from this insight, allowing us to understand why competitive ritualized exchanges of insults are more commonly attested than are analogous competitions involving compliments; better appreciate the ideological bases of politically correct speech; and adjudicate on the relative merits of various theories of politeness, in particular, on claims concerning the relationship between politeness and face
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DOI 10.1075/ps.6.1.01wee
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