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Saturday, June 05, 2010

"So" Hits the Big Time

I've been busy finishing a book manuscript, and I'm afraid I have been a little too occupied to read the newspaper lately.  That is the only explanation for how I could have missed this story in the New York Times about the habit of beginning sentences with "So," which I have written about here before.  Interestingly, the story attributes this tic to the Silicon Valley crowd.  But I prefer the explanation of a recent correspondent to the Times, who blames it on academics and writes: "Beginning an answer with “so” implies that the answerer is drawing a conclusion from a body of knowledge to which she is privy and the listener is not. She is not just answering; she is explaining. The tone is professorial and slightly condescending."  I will not agree or disagree with the last word; I am just duly noting it.  In any event, an interesting couple of pieces for those of us who are fascinated by the "So" trend.

(I should add, on further reflection and after looking at the last sentence on my laptop screen, that I find it interesting that no one has blamed the trend on Peter Gabriel.)  

Posted by Paul Horwitz on June 5, 2010 at 11:34 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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"Right?" at the end of a sentence isn't asking for confirmation. It's asking whether more explanation is necessary. You can replace it with, "Do you follow?" If the answer is negative, the correct response to a more complete explanation is "okay, so."

Person 1: So, the chicken crossed the road, right?
Person 2: Wait, what?
Person 1: Okay, so, chickens frequently cross the road for comic purposes. It's that kind of chicken.
Person 2: Got it.
Person 1: So, the chicken crossed the road, right?
Person 2: Yeah.
Person 1: To get to the other side!

Posted by: Hanah | Jun 8, 2010 8:37:31 AM

if you want the trifecta, try, "so, as it turns out, [dubious factual claim], right?"

Posted by: me | Jun 7, 2010 2:52:26 PM

I'd make some sarcastic comment about Mrsgrundyism finally being overcome by English's (and American English's) increased borrowing from other languages, but that might disclose that I'm not a real 'murikan because I speak more than one language.

All seriousness aside, and remembering that a preposition is a lousy item to end a sentence with, I suspect that this really demonstrates more that top-imposed "rules" of expression are not all that likely to survive contact with reality... especially when those "rules" were originally imposed to enforce class distinctions, and not to regularize meaning.

Posted by: C.E. Petit | Jun 7, 2010 11:16:07 AM

So, it seems like "so" at the beginning of a sentence is often followed by "right?" at the end of the same sentence, right? We should be able to confirm this at the entry-level hiring conference, where such trends emerge.

Posted by: Peter Alces | Jun 7, 2010 8:49:03 AM

So, the New York Times article is almost unreadable. There should always be a comma after the initial "so." That's how you indicate that it's an introductory word instead of part of a causal explanation. Compare:

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: So it could get to the other side.

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: So, all the girl chickens hang out on the other side of the road, and the chicken wanted to talk to them.

Posted by: Hanah | Jun 7, 2010 4:24:35 AM

Today's Sunday NYTimes includes several letters to the editor on "So." Perhaps in reading "So" we might from time to imagine it immediately repeated as a critique.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | Jun 6, 2010 3:46:43 PM

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