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Have read that this increased in popularity starting with US president Obama, but what significance does starting a response with a superfluous 'Look, ...' before giving an answer have?

eg, an individual asked for an opinion, starts response with 'Look ...' before giving an answer.

Some explanations I've heard put forward include giving the speaker another second to think about a response and/or a display of command/dominance/expertise by the 'expert' with respect to the audience. Any basis to either of these or some other rationale entirely?

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    I'd analyze it as an interjection, similar to "so," or "well," or such. Are you looking for an analysis of these words in general, or of "look," specifically?
    – Draconis
    Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 16:48
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    This has been perfectly commonplace and high-frequent since long before Obama’s time. Han Solo makes particularly frequent use of it in the Star Wars movies from the ’70s and ’80s, for example. I strongly doubt there was any significant change during Obama’s presidency. Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 19:08

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Look, this is a really difficult research area and you can't expect there to be many substantively-supported investigations. It reflects a speaker's attitude, but we can't objectively say what is hidden in a speaker's mind, so we have to rely on introspection about particular circumstances. There are two primary uses of initiating "look". One is as you say to assert a superior position. The second is a defensive retreat, for example "Look, I don't want to all day debating this, can we just put the question to a vote?". I think that the underlying unity of the uses is communicating that the speaker's claim should be obvious to anyone who is paying attention.

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