Appalachian Thursday – Weeeeeelllll

Grandmas and me

Grandmothers are masters of taking a single word and imbuing it with a world of meaning.

A friend and I were talking recently about our families–mostly the senior ladies in our Appalachian families–and how they can take a single word and communicate a wide range of meanings. The perfect example is the word, “well.”

Depending on the accompanying tone and expression, “well” can express a variety of messages. Here are a few:

  • Well. (Short, clipped, with lips pinched.) An expression of disdain suggesting that you can think that if you like but you’re completely wrong.
  • Weeellll. (Smiling, drawn out, sly sideways look.) I know what you’re getting at you devil, you!
  • Well. (Blank expression, flat tone.) I never would have thought it of you, but there you have it.
  • Well-ell-ell. (Laughing with a jolly expression.) Aren’t you the cutest thing I’ve ever seen?
  • Well. (Downcast eyes, soft voice, a little breathy.) I guess that’s all there is to say about that.

I don’t suppose this is exclusive to natives of our mountain region, but it’s surely been perfected here. And it’s one of my frustrations in writing. It’s so hard to share the full range of meanings on the printed page. I often end up editing out a slew of “wells” that really don’t convey what I’m after without the finer nuances of body language.

Which is frustrating.

But oh well.

8 thoughts on “Appalachian Thursday – Weeeeeelllll

  1. seeing the picture with this post, I immediately could hear both of those ladies using “well.” Grandma Jane was always the “well” that said you can believe that if you want to, but you’re wrong. I could hear Burla when you kids would ask her to “do” something with you. “Well, let’s don’t and say we did.”

  2. I grew up in NE Kansas but I knew every one of those. I worked on my ancestry of my mother’s adoptive family (mom would be 99 this year) and her mom’s family hails from NC. So that’s where it came from! I now live in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains in sw VA, and those are all used here. I, myself, use all those wells too, and more…such as Well meaning you shoulda done better’n than that OR I told you so!
    Love your blog!

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