THE LATEST THINKING
The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.
So, What’s It Like Being So, So?
""So" is the new "Like", but who likes "So"
So, we don’t say "like" any more, now we say "So…" So is the new Like. I don't know who started the craze or trope of beginning almost every paragraph with the word "So," but it seems to me it began among nerds, semi-scientific types, people reporting on something: "So, the difference between El Nino and La Nina is..." Or, "So, Trompe l’oeil is that photographically realistic style of painting you see on brick walls..." and so on.
The first time I remember it bugging me, to the point where I pointed it out to my wife and we both howled, was when Christina Romer, who was chair of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration, appeared on national TV answering complex questions, and almost every sentence began with "So ..." (She's a brilliant lady, I hasten to add; she went from her government job to head the Econ. Dept. at Cal Berkley; whereas I’m in Podunk, doing diddly). I simply note that it's an interesting speech phenomenon. It's not Street slang. It's not hip-hop. It's not even necessarily generational.
As usual, I'm a day late and a buck short in commenting about this. Many authorities have already pontificated about it. Hunter Thurman says, "In psychology, it's what’s known as a 'marker.' It's a little cue to our cognitive mind that says, 'Quick, call up that part that we practiced.'"
That makes a lot of sense to me, as the word does seem to act as a sort of self-cue, to get you to a particular page of your script, as it were.
The thing has also been officially deemed to be okay, stylistically. Maeve Maddox, on the Daily Writing Tips website, quotes The Chicago Manual of Style: "There is a widespread belief — one with no historical or grammatical foundation — that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but, or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions." I can't help wondering just how they defined "first-rate writing" in order to come up with that percentage; is it that writing which starts things with "So?" Cool. I'd been wondering.
The simplest explanation for the phenomenon may be that expressed by Dr. Penelope Gardner-Chloros, of the department of applied Linguistics and Communication at Birkbeck College, writing in the Spectator. She says that, "Someone using 'so' like this may well be doing it because they've heard other people doing it. It spreads like the flu." While another British authority, PR consultant Cherry Chappell, says in the same article that, "it has a more positive feel than similar mechanisms, such as 'let me just say,' 'erm' or 'like.'"
Now, I get that. That explanation rings my bell. I'm greatly relieved to hear and shall endeavor to adopt that answer. I hope it'll be a marked improvement over my usual, life-long habitual mechanism, "Durr-Uh..."
A.W. Strouse — a poet who teaches medieval literature at the City University of New York — has some big ideas about the English...