Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Well" in the Black Church

I was reading Jonathan Rieder's very interesting account of Martin Luther King's different kinds of rhetoric, The Word of the Lord is Upon Me. One nice feature of the book is that when he quotes portions of King's recorded sermons, Rieder includes the responses and interjections from the congregation. Rieder comments on several of these, including one I had not paid attention to before: "Well." Rieder notes that this word can carry many meanings, depending on its inflection, from "well said" to "it it is well with my soul" to "well, what do you mean?"

This morning I was listening to a recording of Tony Campolo's sermon for Bill Clinton's second inauguration. Much of his sermon turned on the rich expressive style of his black church which Campolo, who is white, was explaining to a predominantly white audience. He, too, talked about the importance of "Well" as a key congregational response to his preaching. He added a nuance that Rieder had not explored: that it is the women who say "well."

I don't know if Campolo was just making a rhetorical flourish, of if he was reporting a general sociological fact. Informed comment would be most welcome.

1 comment:

Charles said...

I learned "well" from men, but I've heard women use it as . . . well.

I still use it, even in Presbyterian circles.