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It's quite common, especially in spoken English, to hear someone begin an explanation with the word, "Look". For example, on US cable news and the like, we often hear an exchange something like this:

Interviewer: So, Peter MacPolitician, do you think your party is justified in pushing for tax reform, especially in light of…[bla, bla, bla]

MacPolitician: Look, we believe that taxes should be…[yada, yada, yada]

My question really has two parts:

  1. In general, what is the linguistics term of art for the role being played by MacPolitician's opening word, "Look"? I don't think it's a filler; is it perhaps an intensifier, or a discourse marker (specifically, an interpersonal discourse marker)?
  2. Specifically, what is the meaning of "Look" in his reply to the question. Consider, for example, the change in effect if, instead of "Look", MacPolitician had chosen to open his answer with, "Well", or even, "So"? To me, "Look" connotes something of the command, "Believe me", but in a less obvious and crass way. Maybe. Hmm.
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  • Oxford dictionaries has: Exclamation: look; exclamation: look here - used to call attention to what one is going to say. - "‘Look, this is ridiculous.’" Jan 20, 2022 at 17:18
  • I would call it a discourse marker. I have thought about its function, and have been unable to come to any precise conclision.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 20, 2022 at 17:41

1 Answer 1

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Discourse marker. The politician is directing the interview to pay attention to the point he's going to make.

Unlike "well" or "so", the politician isn't suggesting that he's considering the question or working out an answer. Rather he suggests that he has a very good answer to that question, and one that the interviewer needs to listen to.

The principle meaning of "look" or "listen" is "pay attention"

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  • Tony Blair (UK Prime Minister 1997 to 2007) is famous for starting answers to questions with 'Look...' Jan 20, 2022 at 20:09

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