phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Why why???

Posted by Smokey Stover on September 09, 2004

In Reply to: Why why??? posted by Lotg (OZ) on September 09, 2004

: Further down the line here I replied to ACME by mimicking (well attempting to) an oft heard Americanism (mainly in Cowdy movies), which is to begin a sentence with 'why'.

: eg. How are you Bill? Why, I'm fine thankya. (Apologies if that example doesn't quite ring true)

: Why do they start some sentences with 'why' like that?

Whenever I fail to consult the OED I end up sorry, so here's their take on it.
"IV. 7. Used interjectionally, before a sentence or clause. a. As an expression of surprise (sometimes only momentary or slight; sometimes involving protest), either in reply to a remark or question, or on perceiving something unexpected.
1519 Interl. Four Elem. Bvij, Than I perceyue ye wyll make gode chere. Hu. Why, what shulde I els do? 1581 Confer. with Campion Ciij, Why, is not Saint Iames Epistle called the Catholike Epistle of Saint Iames. How do you then denie it to be Canonicall? 1599 SHAKES. Much Ado IV. ii. 44 Why this is flat periurie, to call a Princes brother villaine. Ibid. V. iv. 73 Bene. Doo not you loue me? Beat. Why no, no more then reason. 1611 Bible Matt. xxvii. 23 They all sayde vnto him, Let him be crucified. And the Gouernour said, Why, what euil hath he done? 1712 STEELE Spect. No. 533 1 What do I think? why, I think she cannot be above six foot two inches high. 1799 WARNER in Jesse Selwyn & Contemp. IV. 274 What was I to do in this more than Egyptian darkness? Why, go to bed. Very true. 1837 DICKENS Pickw. xix, 'Goodness gracious!' said Mary,.. 'Why, it's that very house.' 1847 DE QUINCEY Secret Soc. Wks. 1890 VII. 217 Were there no such people as the Essenes? Why, no; not as Josephus described them. 1863 KINGSLEY Water-Bab. iii, And, as he spoke, he turned quite pale, and then quite white. 'Why, you're ill!' said Tom. 1893 M. PEMBERTON Iron Pirate i, Mary looked up suddenly..and said,..'Why, I believe I've been asleep!'"

I'm not sure if the Goddess meant Cowboy when she wrote Cowdy. In any case, her example does not quite ring true, as she fears. "Why, I'm fine thankya." In this particular case, "Why" is idiomatic if it is intended to express slight surprise, as in "I'm surprised you should ask." But change the rest to "I'm fine, thanks," or, if you really wish to sound like a movie character, you might say, "I'm fine, thankee." I've never heard "thankya," but it may exist. Obviously the expression is not an Americanism, but is certainly very common in the U.S. Common example: "Q. Are you Jane Smith? A. Why, yes." SS

  • Why why??? Lotg (of a former Colony) 10/September/04