We conduct phatic discourse indispensable to maintaining a constant connection among speakers; but phatic speech is indispensable precisely because it keeps the possibility of communication in working order, for the purpose of other and more substantial communications.
-- Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality
They're just filling the air with noise. This is what's called phatic speech. "How are you?" they might ask.
-- Adriana Lopez, Fifteen Candles
Coined by the anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski, phatic was first used in 1923. It probably comes from the Greek word phatos meaning "spoken."