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The usage of "well"

  1. Apr 2, 2017 #1
    This thread was inspired by an earlier thread on the usage of "we."


    I dislike the use of "well" to begin a sentence in some contexts. Here is a made up example.

    [begin example]

    Recently I've noticed many news stories about Artificial Intelligence. You may be wondering what exactly is "Artificial Intelligence."

    Well, I'm going to pontificate on this issue for a while, in order to enlighten you clueless readers. Of course if I was speaking to you in person I would pronounce the word "well" in a long drawn out sort of way, and look at you in a condescending fashion. You see, I need to pause a bit to give myself time to figure out how to simplify this complex topic for you. I must come down to your level, you inferior person. Pardon my smirk, but I can't help it as I think about how superior I am.

    [end example]

    Perhaps I am being a bit harsh on the usage of "well?" I may be reading too much into it. Perhaps people who begin a sentence with "well, ..." don't mean to be condescending. But in any case I don't see how it serves any useful purpose.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 2, 2017 #2


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  4. Apr 2, 2017 #3


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    Well, well!
  5. Apr 2, 2017 #4
  6. Apr 2, 2017 #5


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    Says the guy on the building...
  7. Apr 2, 2017 #6
    I'm not saying it's a bad way to start a sentence in every context.

    Last edited: Apr 2, 2017
  8. Apr 13, 2017 #7
    Shall we begin to censor the speaking styles of everyone, so that we all like every word we hear? Well, I don't think so, folks. That's not the way we do it in America!
  9. Apr 13, 2017 #8
    Well well well well well.
    What 'ave we 'ere then /.
  10. Apr 13, 2017 #9


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    You are not too harsh about the use of "well"; and the way you analyze it is good. Keep it out of formal writing, except as the adverb that is should be (or, depending how it could be used, as Subject Nominative).
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2017
  11. Apr 14, 2017 #10


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    Or the noun. Or the verb. Or the adjective.
  12. Apr 14, 2017 #11

    jim mcnamara

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    Words and phrases used to fit in socially that lack clear or possibly any necessary semantic meaning are called 'tribal partitives' -
    by a linguist acquaintance at UNM. Partitives are used normally to denote grouping of objects, e.g., a slice of melon. Slice is a partitive. He claims these do-nothing, fiber filler words create group identity. Hmm.

    Anyway, I think he seems to have a good point. Some examples....
    In the US, listen to a group of 14 year old middle-class girls talking among themselves. Count the number of occurrences of the gratuituous, fatuous use of the word 'like'. Stop in 10 seconds or after you have run out of fingers and toes to keep track.

    Adults here in Albuquerque use terms like 'Bro' and 'Bueno bye' in Spanglish - a mostly English mix of English/Spanish that says things about who they are and where they come from. They call themselves Buerqueños or Buerqueñas - words which themselves are a hybrid of English and Spanish.

    I lived on Santo Domingo Pueblo (an indian reservation) for a very long time. There, the term 'heh naah' (not how it is spelled, Keres othography is not in my skill set) is an all-purpose fiber filler term from Keres, sprinkled into English sentences. It means anything ranging from the English word 'well', to okay, goodbye, or hello. Mostly implies 'I am Kewa'.

    The term 'well' fits well into this mix. o0)
  13. Apr 14, 2017 #12


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  14. Apr 14, 2017 #13


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    Well said. :oldbiggrin:

    Well, I don't know.

    More seriously, in a formal discourse in English, beginning a sentence with "Well" is probably inappropriate.
  15. Apr 14, 2017 #14
    I think so.

    "Well" is used to indicate resumption of discourse, introduce a remark but it can also be used to express surprise or expostulation [an earnest reasoning with a person for purposes of dissuasion or a pleading in protest or rebuke (possibly being interpreted as condescending)." Well" as an interjection usuually
    lacks grammatical connection so it does not serve a useful purpose but used as an exclamation it can convey an emotion or attitude. I think a condescension is more effectively conveyed by the person's visual cues and tone of the response rather than using the interjection "well".

    And I agree. If you wanted to make a condescending written response you might have to preface your statement with "Let me explain you twit"

    Whether it is an innocuous interjection or not is most readily deduced by its intonation, perhaps the context in which it is used or in the case of the OP the visual cues. Written, it looses much of the intent if any and thus adds nothing. The following can convey different interpretations. "Well, you're home." critical or surprise depending on intonation. Written it just a fact.

    In the OP the use of "well" being long and drawn out might also be used for the responder to organize his/her thoughts only and nothing else. A curt "well " might imply an annoyance. Some people naturally speak in a way that might be interpreted as condescending but I believe it is mostly the problem of the person being addressed for whatever reason.
  16. Apr 14, 2017 #15
    I've often hear it used to infer "If what you say is true, then it follows that ...),
    an extreme kind of contraction, but certainly understood by most native speakers.
  17. Apr 14, 2017 #16


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    Well, don't you mean "imply?" :oldbiggrin:
  18. Apr 14, 2017 #17
    Strictly speaking this is not a contraction a contraction being a fusion of usually two words as she'll for she will or shall.

    I have never heard of or inferred this interpretation although I guess I could now that you planted it in my mind. I often here "well," prefacing "if what you say is true"
  19. Apr 14, 2017 #18
    Typically something like:
    John: "I hear that the bar we usually go to is closed for a week."
    Joe: Well, let's go that other one where they often have live bands."
  20. Apr 14, 2017 #19
    I would have responded with "Then let's go........
  21. Apr 14, 2017 #20
    On a somewhat related note, the word "wellness" irritates me. So does "parenting." I think in these cases it's because I tend to be very conservative in my use of language.

    By the way, when I was in high school English we read "Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell. I always thought this essay should be required reading for every student. It teaches how effectively language can be used to mislead, often for political purposes.

    What irritates me the most is when scientists use sloppy language.
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