Why, That’s an Interesting Use of “Why”!

40

A word-curious reader posted a great question recently on an old post. I found the question interesting, and the researching even more so.

Here’s the question:

Dear Brian,

Speaking of idiomatic language, I have a question about a word my grandfather and his generation used quite often. I noticed not only Grandpa, but also movie actors of the first half of the 20th century began sentences with the word “Why,” although no question was being asked. For example, “Papa Larkins, did you ride to school in a school bus?” He would have answered, “Why no, we walked to school.” Other ways of using this word peppered his speech. Such as, “Why, I believe I’d add a bit of sugar to the tea.” Or, “Why, your Grandmother was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen.” Or, “Why, she may have even outshone the moon with her smile.” Do you recall this seemingly archaic usage of this word? Can you think of what words have replaced it, if any?

Sincerely, Just Curious in NC.

*****

Here’s my reply:

*****

Great question! I’d never thought of it, though I watch enough old movies to have noticed this usage.

It’s using “why” as an interjection that seems to indicate some slight surprise or perhaps protest.

According to the OED (I love the OED!), this usage dates back at least to 1520. It appears in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing at least twice:

  • 1600   Shakespeare Much Ado about Nothing iv. ii. 39   “Why this is flat periurie, to call a Princes brother villaine.”
  • 1600   Shakespeare Much Ado about Nothing v. iv. 74   “Bene: Do not you loue me? Beat. Why no, no more then reason.”

One linguist on a discussion board hypothesizes that it derived from the interrogative use of <em>why</em> to indicate puzzlement or wonder, but he was admittedly guessing.

*****

Do you have a question or comment? I’d love to hear it and respond. Leave it in the Reply section below.

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. esurance
    esurance03-25-2017

    I wish to say thank you for good overlook which really determined in checking unknown definitions. The better feature to get prices goes lower comparison tool which gives the best offers on house assurance against well known providers as american family in USA.

  2. Fast payday loans
    Fast payday loans03-25-2017

    Thank you regarding great review that really support getting novel provisitions. The best feature to receive quote goes lower compare that provides the best deals on auto and homeowners payday against well known agents as american family located in USA.

  3. geico home insurance
    geico home insurance03-24-2017

    I appreciate regarding understandable survey that frankly designate checking various concepts and definitions. The better feature to apply quote that is cheaper comparison tool which provides the best offers on home insurance coverage against well known companies like American family from the USA.

  4. geico car insurance
    geico car insurance03-24-2017

    I wish to say thank you for nice information which really determined in getting unknown conclusions. The better possibility to make up rates that is cheapest compare process that provides the most wanted offers on home and auto insurance policy provided by best agents as american family in United States.

  5. comparison of auto insurance
    comparison of auto insurance03-24-2017

    Thank you for understandable info that directly designate checking novel concepts and definitions. The best possibility to obtain prices goes online quotes comparison process which provides the most wanted offers on renters insurance provided by best insurers as american family located in USA.

  6. cheap auto insurance quotes
    cheap auto insurance quotes03-24-2017

    I wish to say thank you regarding clear information that really promote checking unknown provisitions. The better possibility to make up rates is cheap comparison tool which gives the most wanted offers for landlord insurance provided by good known agent like American family in USA.

  7. nationwide insurance
    nationwide insurance03-22-2017

    I appreciate regarding understandable review that frankly designate checking undiscovered findings. The better possibility to choose prices is online process that provides the cheapest offers on renters insurance policies by zip code against high companies from the United States.

  8. Www.statefarm
    Www.statefarm03-22-2017

    Thank you regarding natural info that frankly help in getting emergent definitions. The best feature to choose prices goes lower process which gives the best offers for landlord insurance using zip code provided by high ratings agent in US.

  9. url
    url03-22-2017

    You made some respectable points there. I looked on the internet for the issue and found most people will associate with along with your website.

  10. buy app reviews
    buy app reviews03-19-2017

    Excellent website. Lots of helpful information here. I’m sending it to several pals ans also sharing in delicious. And obviously, thank you for your effort!

  11. personal trainer Pasadena California
    personal trainer Pasadena California03-18-2017

    Really excellent info can be found on web blog.

  12. how to get started in travel photography
    how to get started in travel photography03-18-2017

    Some truly prize articles on this website , saved to favorites.

  13. best trip planner
    best trip planner03-17-2017

    I gotta bookmark this site it seems extremely helpful handy

  14. travel videos youtube channel
    travel videos youtube channel03-17-2017

    I’ve been absent for a while, but now I remember why I used to love this website. Thank you, I will try and check back more frequently. How frequently you update your site?

  15. google trip planner app
    google trip planner app03-17-2017

    Hi there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  16. home insurance quotes
    home insurance quotes03-17-2017

    Thank you regarding good review which directly designate getting unknown definitions. The best possibility to receive quote that is lowest cost comparison tool which provides the best deals on content insurance provided by high insurers from the United States.

  17. dropbox photo gallery
    dropbox photo gallery03-17-2017

    Please let me know if you’re looking for a writer for your site. You have some really great articles and I think I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d absolutely love to write some content for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please blast me an email if interested. Kudos!

  18. how to travel the world for cheap
    how to travel the world for cheap03-17-2017

    This web site is really a walk-through for all of the info you wanted about this and didn’t know who to ask. Glimpse here, and you’ll definitely discover it.

  19. plan a road trip with google maps
    plan a road trip with google maps03-16-2017

    Wow! Thank you! I continually needed to write on my blog something like that. Can I take a fragment of your post to my website?

  20. best travel lens for crop sensor
    best travel lens for crop sensor03-16-2017

    What¦s Taking place i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I have found It positively helpful and it has aided me out loads. I hope to contribute & help other users like its aided me. Great job.

  21. europe trip planner itinerary
    europe trip planner itinerary03-16-2017

    I like this post, enjoyed this one appreciate it for posting. “What is a thousand years Time is short for one who thinks, endless for one who yearns.” by Alain.

  22. Landlord buildings insurance
    Landlord buildings insurance03-16-2017

    I wish to say thank you for understandable feedbacks which frankly benefit choosing emergent positions. The best feature to receive prices goes lowest quotes comparison process which provides the cheapest offers for auto insurance policies provided by well known providers in US.

  23. parker colorado homes for sale
    parker colorado homes for sale03-16-2017

    Hiya very cool web site!! Man .. Beautiful .. Amazing .. I’ll bookmark your web site and take the feeds alsoKI’m glad to seek out so many helpful info right here in the submit, we want work out extra techniques in this regard, thanks for sharing. . . . . .

  24. work from home jobs with no startup cost
    work from home jobs with no startup cost03-15-2017

    I needed to compose you this very small note to finally say thanks as before about the amazing secrets you’ve shown above. It was really generous with people like you to grant unhampered all that a number of us would’ve marketed for an ebook in making some bucks for their own end, most notably since you could have tried it in the event you decided. These points as well worked to provide a good way to be sure that other people online have a similar zeal just as mine to realize way more in respect of this matter. I’m sure there are millions of more pleasurable moments ahead for many who read carefully your blog post.

  25. TOEIC
    TOEIC03-15-2017

    Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say great blog!

  26. home insurance premium comparison
    home insurance premium comparison03-15-2017

    I wish to thank you regarding good survey that really benefit choosing unknown findings. The best possibility to receive prices is cheapest quotes comparison process which provides the cheapest deals on home and auto insurance policy provided from good known providers in US.

  27. pharmaceutical jobs
    pharmaceutical jobs03-15-2017

    Absolutely indited subject matter, regards for entropy.

  28. tekken apk
    tekken apk03-14-2017

    Hi, Neat post. There’s a problem with your site in internet explorer, could test this?K IE still is the market chief and a big part of people will leave out your fantastic writing because of this problem.

  29. law of attraction for weight loss
    law of attraction for weight loss03-14-2017

    Hi there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

  30. GEICO insurance
    GEICO insurance03-13-2017

    I appreciate for natural review that directly designate choosing various definitions. The most preferable feature to apply quotes goes online comparison tool which provides the cheapest deals on auto and home insurance policy provided from best providers as geico from the US.

  31. Low auto insurance quotes
    Low auto insurance quotes03-12-2017

    Hello There. I found your blog the use of msn. That is a very well written article. I’ll be sure to bookmark it and return to learn more of your useful info. Thank you for the post. I’ll certainly return.

  32. SEMRUSH Pro Cracked
    SEMRUSH Pro Cracked03-08-2017

    Hi, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your website in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, fantastic blog!

  33. Global Removalist
    Global Removalist03-08-2017

    Good info and right to the point. I am not sure if this is truly the best place to ask but do you people have any thoughts on where to employ some professional writers? Thx :)

  34. home decoration ideas
    home decoration ideas03-06-2017

    Just want to say your article is as astonishing. The clarity to your post is simply cool and i could suppose you are an expert in this subject. Well along with your permission let me to take hold of your RSS feed to keep up to date with imminent post. Thanks a million and please keep up the gratifying work.

  35. lovely shez
    lovely shez03-06-2017

    82ybGH With havin so much content do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or copyright infringement?

  36. top blenders
    top blenders03-06-2017

    I dugg some of you post as I thought they were handy extremely helpful

  37. Dwayne Cristelli
    Dwayne Cristelli03-05-2017

    Have you ever thought about creating an ebook or guest authoring on other blogs? I have a blog based on the same information you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my viewers would enjoy your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e-mail.

  38. NikkiSOi
    NikkiSOi02-28-2017

    what is coladapin buy clonazepam 1mg clonazepam o.5 [url=http://www.netvibes.com/clonazepamonline ]clonazepam pill[/url]. buy allopurinol clonazepam prices clonazepam 2.0 mg cheap clonazepam . rivotril 2mg clonazepam clonazepam mg . clonazepam uk clonazepam .5 mg tablet lonazep tablet clonazepam 1mg pictures side effects clonazepam 0.5 mg clonazepam side effects withdrawal symptoms

  39. HarRenOi
    HarRenOi02-26-2017

    clonazepam tab 2mg lonazep medicine . kolonipin clonazepam anti anxiety drugs cloanzepam clonazepam info clonazepam wikipedia how to get clonazepam prescribed . generic clonazepam clonazepam 1 mg how does clonazepam work [url=http://www.netvibes.com/clonazepamonline ]clonazepam buy[/url]. rivotril price clonazepam information clonazepam 0.05 mg lonazep md side effects .

  40. R G
    R G07-09-2014

    I think this usage is endearing, and I especially appreciate the diction most use when saying it — fully using the ‘H’ sound that is often dropped in lazy speech of today.

Leave a Reply

If you like a post, please take a second to click "like," and comment as often as you like.
We promise not to correct your grammar!