Learn English – History of “oh well”


"Oh well" is an interjection used to express acquiescence or resignation towards an undesirable event which has occurred (maybe this isn't the most precise definition, but I think most native English speakers know what it means.).

What is the history of this phrase?

A remark: it would sound more logical for it to be "all well" rather than "oh well", because the former would reaffirm that all is still well in spite of whatever bad has occurred.

Best Answer

Alone, "well" has been used as a discourse marker for all of English history. However, "oh well" doesn't seem to be as old. The oldest citation for "oh well" in OED is 1582:

O well quoth Samson, if yee had not plowed with my heyfer, that is, vsed the helpe of my wife, yee had not founde out my redell.
T. Bentley Seuenth Lampe Virginitie in Sixt Lampe Virginitie 299

It is also relevant to note that the nearly identical expression "ah well" is likely older, as the earliest OED citation is from 1534:

Hem, numnam perijmus? Ah wel, are we not in yl case trowe we?
N. Udall Floures for Latine Spekynge gathered oute of Terence f. 16