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Saturday, April 08, 2006

well . . .

I love the placeholder word "well." I use it all the time in conversation, as a way to interject my own voice into the discussion while giving me a moment to gather my thoughts. I would guess its etymology is something like a condensation of,
"What you have just said is all well and good, but I have a different view of the matter."

The word as a "header" at the top of a paragraph is cropping up into casual, speech-based prose, but I doubt it has made inroads into formal prose.

Thinking about "well" reminds me of the poet David Antin's brilliance in basing his poetry on speech rather than on prose. Speech is a richer thing than prose, less circumscribed by the canons of reason, discourse, argument, proof, or even description. Syllables as containers of . . . I search for the word . . . (um) . . . unformed thought. Emotionally-charged unformed thought, even if the only emotion is a desire to make oneself heard.

"Well" as a paragraph header always implies a reply to another speech, or at least an expectation. I can imagine a story teller beginning with "well" in a situation where the storyteller expects listeners to have been waiting for him or her to begin. I can't imagine discursive prose beginning with "well."

The singers know the power of "well." Think of the rockabillyists, stretching a "well" at the beginning of a song or a verse for a whole measure or more. What does such a "well" portend? It's bottomless, that well. You could drink from it for generations.
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