In old books (and occasionally new books), you see the word “Why” used to indicate a pause or emphasis in dialogue.
For example, from 1952:
“Why, how perfectly simple!” she said to herself. “The way to save Wilbur’s life is to play a trick on Zuckerman. “If I can fool a bug,” thought Charlotte, “I can surely fool a man. People are not as smart as bugs.”
That line about people and bugs was cute, but what really jumped out at me was the “Why.” I don’t think I’ve ever ever heard anyone use “Why” in that way in conversation, but I see it all the time in books, and every time it’s jarring.
What’s the deal? Is it that people used to talk that way? Or is a Wasp thing, some regional speech pattern that was captured in books because it was considered standard conversational speech? I suppose one way to learn more would be to watch a bunch of old movies. I could sort of imagine Jimmy Stewart beginning his sentences with “Why” all the time.
Does anyone know more?
P.S. I used to live in the same building as the guy who discovered the etymology of O.K. He did that around 1940 but was still around sixty years later. I bet he would’ve known all about “Why.”