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I notice that there has been a change in the word well. Examples are:

  • She's well nice.
  • It's well good.

Is this a West of England term (I lived there for a while), or has it just entered the language?

  • 3
    A modifier to an adjective (like nice) is generally an adverb. See Oxford sense 2.3. – Andrew Leach Sep 9 '18 at 17:53
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    David, I've edited your post to correct the title as per @AndrewLeach's comment; this should encourage a more positive reception (since this site is for "serious language enthusiasts", misclassifying a part of speech would not be welcomed!). If this is not what you want to ask, you can "roll back" the edit to the original. – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Sep 10 '18 at 0:23
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    To my (American English) ear, those do sound unusual in a "probably British dialect of some sort" way. But on the other hand, there's the set phrase well pleased which sounds perfectly natural to me, especially in the negative (they were not well pleased). – 1006a Sep 10 '18 at 1:51
  • "I notice ..." -- try and provide the sources for reference. – Kris Sep 10 '18 at 7:09
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OED lists this sense of well (as an adverbial intensifier) as sense IV:

IV. As an intensifier with adjectives, numerals, adverbs, etc.
16. With adjectives.
a. In general use, in a variety of constructions, typically without complement, in senses varying from ‘fully, completely’ to ‘fairly, considerably, rather’.

They include a citation from 1962 (my emphasis):

1962 S. Ennis tr. P. Sayers Old Woman's Refl. vi. 32 It was well late when I reached Flagstone a little below Vicarstown, and those little things delayed me.

However the earliest citations don't have a date, coming from Old English (Early Old English was used 400–700 AD):

eOE tr. Bede Eccl. Hist. (Tanner) iv. ii. 258 Wæron her stronge cyningas & wel cristne [L. fortissimos Christianosque habentes reges].
eOE Bald's Leechbk. (Royal) (1865) ii. ii. 180 Pisan ofþænda & gesodena on ecede & on wætre & on wine wel scearpum.
OE Blickling Homilies 217 Þa wæs he þær dagas wel manige.
lOE King Ælfred tr. Boethius De Consol. Philos. (Bodl.) (2009) I. xxv. 293 Seo leo, þeah hio wel tam se.., gif hit æfre gebyreð þæt heo blodes onbirigð, heo forgit sona hire niwan taman.

So no, it's not recent nor a West Country use.

[I would generally translate texts which are not really recognisable English, but in this case my Old English is not up to the task.]

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  • it's primarily London ("Cockney") dialectical. Also common in South East England ("Estuary") dialect. For some years a BBC "EastEnders" soap character had a dog called "Well 'Ard" (Well Hard). – Michael Harvey Sep 9 '18 at 18:05
  • I tend to think this is OED sense 16c not its 16a. And the bracketed Latin from Bede is easier for me than the Old English! “Being very strong and Christian kings”. The “well Christian” bit is in the OE only, not the Latin, although the Latin does have very strong modifying Christian. But I believe that waeron was a finite be verb in the preterite plural, so like were today, but the bracketed Latin is not a finite verb at all. This, it’s all close enough. – tchrist Sep 9 '18 at 18:09
  • Is this "OED" publicly accessible? If so, would not the Q be GR? – Kris Sep 10 '18 at 7:11
  • @Kris OED is not publicly accessible, which is why I haven't linked to it. – Andrew Leach Sep 10 '18 at 7:12
  • There ought to be some publicly accessible online resource that deals with this helpfully enough? – Kris Sep 10 '18 at 7:16
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This is not an adjectival use of well. Adjectival uses include such things as these:

  • I am not a well man. (attributive use)
  • I don’t feel well. (predicative use)
  • He’s not well. (predicative use)

The sort of use you mention here isn’t really even an adverb, either, at least in modern analysis. Rather, it is an intensifier, much like very. In older analyses, intensifiers were usually classified as adverbs. However, they can only modify other modifiers, not verbs, which makes them something of an odd sort of adverb. (Then again, there are scads of odd sorts of adverbs.)

The OED covers this in that word’s section IV for intensifier use, and specifically under sense 16c, where it calls it “British slang”.

IV. As an intensifier with adjectives, numerals, adverbs, etc.

  1. With adjectives.

    a. In general use, in a variety of constructions, typically without complement, in senses varying from ‘fully, completely’ to ‘fairly, considerably, rather’.

    Formerly in common use; now chiefly with asleep, awake, open, and as implied in sense A. 16b.

    With predicative adjectives (chiefly able, aware, capable, familiar, suitable, willing, and worth) complemented by an infinitive, that-clause, noun phrase, or prepositional phrase: to a substantial extent, more than somewhat; certainly, undoubtedly, thoroughly. See also well worthy adj.

    In well worthwhile the noun complement while is now treated as the second element of a compound adjective.

    c. Brit. slang. Used as an intensifier to qualify (chiefly predicative) adjectives, with emphatic force: downright, absolutely. Cf. good and at good adj. 12c.

    In this use sentence stress usually falls on well rather than the following adjective.

As to whether this has just entered the language, the OED’s earliest citation is from only 1972, so it appears that your suspicion may be correct.

  • 1972 J. Speight Till Death us do Part: Scripts (1973) 133
    Rita: God's got the churches.
    Mike: Yeah, the way property is gazumping, He's got to be well loaded.

With the most recent citation being:

  • 2012 Independent 7 Sept. 15/3
    Louboutin is well chuffed and says that everybody knows a red sole is a Louboutin sole and now it’s enshrined in law.

There’s also a citation from Eastenders:

  • 1998 A. Wood EastEnders (BBC TV script) (O.E.D. Archive) Episode 642. 61
    Mick. If Lola doesn't make it we’ll just have to play background music.
    Lenny. That’ll look well naff won't it?

However, that’s just for 16c; there are many earlier citations for 16a and 16b dating back to Old English.

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  • Interesting. Are you using the online OED? I would say this is simply very. – Andrew Leach Sep 9 '18 at 18:04
  • @AndrewLeach Yes, that’s the Online OED, from here. It’s been updated since the OED2 that many of us have copies of, in December of 2014 if I read the history right. – tchrist Sep 9 '18 at 18:12

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