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I am reading a book and I am finding this kind of expressions:

-'Why, people in perfect health act in the same way too,'

-'Why, are you all afraid of me?'

-'What nonsense he is talking! Why, you are in a sentimental mood today, are you?'

-'And why should they compensate me? Why, he was drunk and threw himself under the horses'

My wondering is about the use of the bold "why". I understand it as an expression, perhaps equivalent to "ah?" or "what?", but I am afraid my understanding is not correct or inaccurate. Help please!

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I agree with the above commenter. It's an interjection to express surprise, hesitation or impatience. link: http://www.wordreference.com/definition/why.

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You're perfectly correct.

Try substituting "What's the matter," "What" (you mention it yourself), "No way," "Look," "Whoa!" etc.

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    It is the first time I see such expressions. Is it currently use in the english literature or in a coloquial conversation? – Bur Nor Jul 26 '18 at 17:49
  • I could imagine Jane Austen (18t century literature) using it, but it might also be used in some dialects too. I've got a feeling you might come accross it in some old classic Hollywood movies. People I know use it sometimes for fun/ironically. – S Conroy Jul 26 '18 at 18:18
  • "What's the matter, are you afraid of me?" - sounds perfectly normal in today's English, New York overtones and all. – Ricky Jul 26 '18 at 18:26
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    Would you also say (without irony) Why! Are you afraid of me? – S Conroy Jul 26 '18 at 18:33
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    In the American South where there is no wine-whine merger, this why is pronounced as the letter y, while interrogative why has the historic wh-sound. – KarlG Jul 26 '18 at 22:22

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