Thursday, August 29, 2013

Say It Ain't So!

from Jacqueline

I may have touched upon this subject before.  No matter, it warrants another airing.

When did it become the linguistic fashion to prefix any statement - usually in the form of an answer to a question – with the word, so? I, for one, am truly fed up with it. 

Several weeks ago I was listening to someone being interviewed on NPR, and the “so” factor was so (dare I say it) evident in each response to a question, I had to turn off the car radio – it was driving me nuts!

            How do you like your eggs?
            So, I like them poached.

Well, it wasn’t quite like that, but almost.  You could have removed the “so” at the beginning of each answer, and you would have had a complete sentence.  This tedious locution was almost as annoying as listening to Caroline Kennedy scatter “like” and “y’know” with abandon.

When I was a child, at about the age of six, we were taught that “so” was a “joining word.”  That’s how teachers embarked upon grammar at that age.  So was a joining word, along with words such as “and.”  And while we’re about it, I never thought I would begin a sentence with “and” after Miss Bishop’s take-no-prisoners grammar class in Infants 2 – but of course, I do.  (I should explain – the first two classes of the primary school were known as the “infants” classes.  You didn’t get into the juniors until you were 7).   “But” was listed as another joining word.  But starting a sentence with “so” is, well, so unnecessary. It sounds really silly too – the sort of sentence opener you’d expect from a kid in Infants 1.

I’m not the only person to go on about the so thing.  Here’s what Anand Giridharadas commented in a New York Times article.

“So” may be the new “well,” “um,” “oh” and “like.” No longer content to lurk in the middle of sentences, it has jumped to the beginning, where it can portend many things: transition, certitude, logic, attentiveness, a major insight.”

He suggests that this locution has its roots in Silicon Valley, or even further north, at Microsoft (that lot again …), and generally in the scientific community, where a conclusion is often introduced with the word “so” – as in “A+B=C, so therefore, C = A+B.” 

OK, I get all that, but starting a sentence with so is redundant. It makes the person speaking sound as if they missed something at the beginning and they’re trying to catch up in the middle. Sometimes it gives the impression that the speaker thinks they know more than anyone else (imagine an eye roll, “So, where we begin is …”).

I know I sound like a bit of a curmudgeon, but I think it’s time for a linguistic paradigm shift* – back to Miss Bishop and her joining words – and put so in its place, as the connective tissue in the body of a sentence.  It’s enough that, as Zadie Smith suggested, in spending time on Facebook we’re all cells in the giant brain of a 22 year-old.  (Well, what she actually said in a New York Review of Books essay was, “ ... 500 million sentient people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard sophomore." We don't have to take it a step further and give the impression that we're geeks on a weekend pass from Google. 

I do hope the elevation of so from the middle of the sentence to the beginning, ends soon.  I'm grating my teeth so much, I'm getting TMJ!

Well, that's it from me.  Wishing you an excellent long weekend!

(*Does anyone remember the paradigm shift?  People were having them all over the place, and in company, about 15 years ago. I don’t think they’re made any more ….)


  1. Excellent observations and conclusions! Those people are SO annoying!!!!

  2. Wow, you're tough today, Jackie.
    Seems to me "so" is filler, just like "well."
    My own pet peeve is when I say thank you to a cashier and instead of "you're welcome," I get in return, "No problem."

  3. "Thank you," I said to the cashier.
    "No problem," she replied.

    Instead of "you're welcome."

    Lots of things bug me, too.

  4. from Jacqueline

    Me, tough? Well, maybe. Paul, I hate the "No problem," too - especially when it's reduced to, "No probs..." Eeeeekkkkkkkk!

    And thank you, Mari - someone agrees with me!

  5. James O. Born8/30/2013 3:40 PM

    You hit the nail on the head, "so" is just a stall like "um". I am personally protesting NPR until they add a College Football Analyst.

    Have a great weekend.


  6. And when you get that sorted, there are the guests interviewed on NPR who, when thanked for their contribution to the conversation, say "thank you" in return. Whatever happened to "you're welcome" or "my pleasure?" Did "no problem," which for a while (too long of a while, if you ask me) served as the response to being thanked destroy all memory of "you're welcome?" And don't get me started on interviewers who raise their pitch at the end of a sentence, whether it's a question or not...