This paper examines the use of bald on-record politeness strategy by four hosts of adversarial panel discussions on radio. Brown and Levinson’s (1978, 1987) influential and diversely discussed Politeness Theory holds that verbal interaction may break down if the participants ignore each other’s face needs. By this argument, the bald on-record strategy would appear to be the least desirable choice among interactants. However, it has long since been shown that focusing on politeness in institutional settings exposes new dimensions of the phenomenon (Grainger, 2005; Mullany, 2005; Harris, 2000; Lakoff, 1989). Drawing on data obtained from seven episodes of confrontational discourse on radio, the paper establishes that this apparently impolite and face-threatening behaviour of the hosts is both common and effective in managing adversarial talk. It also shows, by situating the adversarial radio discussion in its institutional context, how the host’s selection of bald on-record strategy may not be perceived as impolite. The paper concludes by proposing that the host’s interactional behaviour may lead to a breakdown of the interaction only if it is perceived to be ‘impolitely impolite’ in the context of the specific community of practice.
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