I’m currently reading George Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire novels in English. As a non-native speaker (I’m German), I stumbled upon some grammatical constructs that I’ve never seen before, one of them being the Why at beginning of sentences.


  • Tyrion gave the rotting head a second look. Why, it almost looks as if those lips are smiling.
  • Did he use that word? Why, the boy has a singer's soul . . . though if you believe that song, you may well be dimmer than the first Reek.

These kind of sentences are obviously different from sentences like Why is the sky blue?

I’d like to know if that construct is archaic, or could be used in everyday language, and how one could rephrase that kind of sentences. Can it be rephrased at all? To me it seems like the Why is just used to give the sentence a kind of “cynical” taste.

  • Warum? Darum! Sorry, couldn't stop myself. Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 22:14

1 Answer 1


"Why" in this case is not being used as a question word, but as an interjection, such as:

  • "Oh! It tastes just like chicken!"
  • "Why, it tastes just like chicken!"

It's a old usage, dating back centuries, and it is not obsolete.

It usually indicates a degree of mild surprise in the speaker in response to a remark or a question. I recall a scene in an old movie starring Edward G. Robinson, in which Robinson portrayed a newspaper reporter. He was interviewing a rather rough individual, and when this person saw that Robinson's character was scribbling what looked like incomprehensible gibberish, asked "What the hell is that?" Whereupon Robinson responded in mild surprise: "Why, that's shorthand!"

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