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.