In an article titled “The Ice Age Cometh” (Fortune, May 25, 1998, reprinted in The Great Unraveling, 2003), Paul Krugman writes:
Suppose that two tribes—the Clan of the Cave Bear and its neighbor, the Clan of the Cave Bull—live in close proximity, but traditionally follow different hunting strategies. The Cave Bears tend to hunt rabbits—a safe strategy, since you can be pretty sure of finding a rabbit every day, but one with a limited upside, since a rabbit is only a rabbit. The Cave Bulls, on the other hand, go after mammoths—risky since you never know when or if you’ll find one, but potentially very rewarding, since mammoths are, well, mammoth.
The thinking behind the phrase “mammoths are, well, mammoth” seems to be that by visibly hesitating in the midst of the semi-tautological observation that “mammoths are mammoth,” Krugman either distances himself from the obviousness of the observation (by indicating that he is aware of it) or slows down his narrative so that readers can savor the flash of wit.
In the past several years, I have seen dozens of instances of this use of well. For example, from The Rough Guide to the Earth (2007):
The other group [of meteorites] are the finds. These are meteorites that are, well, found, either by chance or by searchers looking for them after reports of a fall.
And from Susan Pinker, The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women, and the Real Gender Gap (2008):
The bell curve simply looks different for males, with more men at the tail ends of the distribution, where their measured skills are either dismal, stellar, or a mix of the two. ... Comparing men and women in the middle ranges one finds fewer sex differences, but at the extremes the picture looks—well—extreme.
I had imagined that this particular use of well was a fairly recent phenomenon. (A Google Books search for the phrase “work is, well, work,” for example, turned up nine unique relevant matches, none from before 1975.) But then I found this example from Walter de la Mare, Memoirs of a Midget (1922):
As for poetry, one might have guessed from what they said that it meant no more than — well, its "meaning." As if a butterfly were a chrysalis.
In a question-and-answer on this site about Garbage/stuff words, several answerers cited the terms "discourse markers" (identified as "words we use in speech to separate different pieces of information") and "fillers" (identified as words that "fill in gaps while the speaker thinks of what to say next." However, what I'm talking about here is not the unconscious use of a filler word while searching for a way to complete a thought, but the hyperconscious simulation of such use, for literary effect.
My questions are
Is there a standard rhetorical term for this formulaic use of well (or an allied word such as ahem or erm) to express self-aware hesitation prior to stating the obvious?
How far back historically does use of this tactic in English go?