What can I call a situation when people don't know each other well, but just say hello to each other our of courtesy, so to speak? Can it be called exchange of politeness by analogy with exchange friendly visits?

EDIT Google Ngram shows exchange of courtesies is in order of magnitude more common. The same goes for exchange of civilities. Does it mean what I am talking about?

  • As you've obviously discovered, the "standard" form is an exchange of courtesies. The equivalent for politeness would need to be pluralised to politenesses - which is credible, and does occur (rarely), but it's just too much of a mouthful to ever become "popular". Equally, although some native speakers might try to make it a little "easier" by going for the singular form, most others will recognize this as "wrong", so it won't catch on. Jul 23, 2015 at 17:06
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    Exchange of pleasantries is much more common than any of the above (according to Google Ngram and my own anecdotal experience). Jul 23, 2015 at 17:16
  • If all they do is greet each other, and don't stop to chat, one could say they exchanged greetings.
    – TimR
    Jul 23, 2015 at 20:05

2 Answers 2


Merriam Webster provides the following sentence as an example in its article on civility:

They greeted each other with the usual exchange of civilities.

I must say that the COCA corpus provides only one instance of "exchange of civilities" (none for "exchange of politeness").

Here's an interesting NGram:

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There's also exchange of amenities - here's how it stacks against our record holder, courtesies:

enter image description here

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    Yes, Google Ngram shows exchange of civilities is common nevertheless: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – olegst
    Jul 23, 2015 at 14:54
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    And - yes, Ngram doesn't find exchange of politeness either. Thank you for your answer.
    – olegst
    Jul 23, 2015 at 14:56
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    The first word that popped into my head was niceties. "Let's dispense with the niceties and get down to business."
    – ColleenV
    Jul 23, 2015 at 15:19
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    I'm not sure you really need to back up the substance of the answer (No, "exchange of politeness" isn't idiomatic) with frequency charts. It seems to me it simply reflects the fact that in the specific context. pleasantry, courtesy, civility are all countable nouns that can easily be pluralised. It's true politenesses does in fact exist, but it's a bit of a mouthful. And the singular doesn't work at all (we don't have an exchange of courtesy), so native speakers just aren't likely to use either version. Jul 23, 2015 at 17:03
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    According to Google Ngram, exchange of pleasantries is many times more common than any of the above. Jul 23, 2015 at 17:14

No, in contemporary native English it is called "an exchange of pleasantries." A Google Ngram confirms my native knowledge that this is much more common in our time then "exchange of civilities."

Note the Oxford Dictionary:


(usually pleasantries)

An inconsequential remark made as part of a polite conversation: 'after an exchange of pleasantries, I proceeded to outline a plan'

More example sentences

And off we both went through the rain, pleasantries exchanged and honour satisfied.

After the introductions were done they exchanged pleasantries with Caitlyn who answered politely to all of them.

Johnson attempted to start conversation with some pleasantries but Bill was not very talkative.

The same dictionary gives one example sentence with exchanging civilities, but Google Ngrams confirms that pleasantries is much more common these days.

enter image description here

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