So, I inhabit a shadowy netherworld (Lincolnshire) where the latest trends and high fashion passes me by, or arrives thirty years late (our local Co-op doesn’t stock ‘posh’ avocados and I still haven’t seen Frozen – although I feel it often enough).
But even I can’t help notice the amount of times people are starting a sentence with ‘so’.
It started with radio interviews, usually politicians, but now it is everywhere. Whenever anyone is asked a straight question, they start their answer with “So, blah blah di blah blah…”
It makes no grammatical sense. It is bloody infuriating. But it spreads, like fidget spinners or loom bands (see, I do keep up with some trends). And, a bit like fidget spinners, no-one seems to realise they are doing it, and that makes it even more annoying.
My research (Google) says it began in America with techie geeks back in the 90s, who used it to give themselves more time to answer, possibly because English wasn’t their first language.
It is also used as a way of engaging with the questioner, making them think you are weighing up their query and then ignoring it and answering a totally different question – the question you wanted to answer in the first place. This is usually something like ‘why are you and your political party so great?’
Saying so is also thought to indicate the speaker has been coached in interview techniques. It sounds more definite than ‘er’ or ‘um’, as if a more serious, thoughtful reply is about to follow.
Tony Blair, the ultimate media manipulator, started his replies with ‘well’ a lot, as a way of giving weight to them. Also popular, but slightly more aggressive, is ‘anyway’.
When the speaker drops the ‘so’ and plunges right in you know you have got to the real answers, without the media training.
I’m not buying this – I think verbal tics spread, like nits. You pick them up off someone and they are almost impossible to throw off.
When I went to college there was a big contingent of Northern Irish students. Within a month us English teenagers were unconsciously mimicking their accent. I shared a house with a couple from Down South and I found myself speaking as if everything was a question – that upward intonation at the end of every sentence that Australians and some Americans use.
Remember a few years ago, when everyone said ‘like’ or ‘you know what I mean’? (David Beckham was terrible at this). Phrases spread too: ‘How are you?’ ‘Oh, I’m good, thanks.’ ‘Do you want to play with this fidget spinner?’ ‘Ah no, I’m good.’
Good? As opposed to bad, or naughty? Who says you’re good, your mum?
Similarly, when I started watching Elementary back in 2012 I was perplexed to hear the police (I mean cops – this is America) talk about ‘reaching out’ to someone. I imagined an outstretched hand desperately grasping for a drowning soul.
But no, they meant call someone. Like, on the phone. “Americans, eh?” I shrugged – but I have heard people talk about reaching out this year, in this country.
I mean it when I say it is contagious. Someone offered me a drink and I shook my head and told them I was good, before biting off my tongue. I start sentences with ‘so’ all the time, and even when I know I’m doing it, I still do it.
We want to be part of the pack, say the psychologists. Sharing language traits shows we all belong – to a flock of parrots, presumably.
So, you know what will happen now? You will all start hearing the word ‘so’ at the start of sentences ALL THE TIME. And then you will all start unconsciously doing it too.
So be it.