Ah ... so.

“Ah … so”, as we know, is a phrase attributed to wizened Asian gentlemen with stringy beards. They pick up some new tidbit of information, then nod their heads and say thoughtfully, “Ah … so.”

Surely there is a book or movie etc. that is the source of this pop-culture cliche? I think “Ah … so” dates well back into the thirties at least.

(I can see this gag coming 1000 miles away so I’ll deal with it now: No, I’m not calling you an Ah-so. I’m not calling anyone an Ah-so. No-one’s an Ah-so.)

PS I have known plenty of Asians in my day and not surprisingly, not one of them has ever said “Ah … so”.

I know that the Japanese word for “yes” is pronounced “so”. So really they’re stroking their stringy beards and saying “ah … yes” in a thoughtful way.

So maybe this expression predates movies and TV.

So that’s what I’m saying.

So there.

I’ve always said Ach, so in German.

It’s Japanese. I think it was popularized in the Charlie Chan movies, where some white dude got rich playing Hollywood stereotypical Chinese using Japanese expressions.

I was very surprised to find “Ach, so” (although pronounced more like “Ah, so”) in German as a standard expression, as Floater says. It’s used several times in both the stage and screen versions of Stalag 17.

Ever since I’ve noticed that, I’ve wondered if maybe this is really a Western (specifically German) expression that came to be attributed to Eastern people because it “sounded right”. The Charlie Chan books were written by a Westerner (Biggers, IIRC), and Chan has always been played by Western actors. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that one of those guys started using it. (Nobody says “Ah, so” in Robert van Gulik’s “Judge Dee” books – and van Gulik knew his Chinese culture.)
So does antbody know if it’s authentic Chinese or Japanese? Somehow it seems unlikely to me that the Germans and the Chinese/Japanese just happened to come up with the same expression.

I have heard Japanese speakers say “Ah…soo” meaning “Ah…yes” or “Oh…really” or “Ah ha!” “Soo” in Japanese roughly translates into “yes.”

A sample conversation:

Me: “The sushi bar that we went to last night was in Soho.”
Japanese Brother-in-law: “I thought it was in Covent Garden.”
Me: “No, it was in Soho.”
Japanese Brother-in-law: “Ah…soo.”

The Emperor Hirohito would say this, as he would walk about and chat with Japanese citizens. Of course, this was after World War II, under a plan to make the emperor more accessible to ordinary people. Pre-war, only a select few ever got to see, let alone talk to, the emperor.

I think it’s short for Ah, so desu ka? (Japanese for ‘is that so?’)

At least that what I remember from a James Bond book I read ages ago.

[slight hijack]

What’s the difference between Japanese hai and so? Is it just two equivalent forms of the affirmative (cf. English “yes”, “yeah”, “OK”, etc.)?

[/slight hijack]

Japanese and English so are pronounced the same and mean the same thing. It’s just one of those coincidences! I’ve seen a web page that has a big list of them from various languages around the world.

That’s correct. And that phrase pretty much means : “Ah, is that so?” or “Ah, is that right?”
It is an agreement phrased as a question but it can also be a question itself.

Example :

Person A: “Watashi wa biru ga dai suki desu ne.”
Person B: “Ah, so desu ka?”
Person A: “Hai. So desu ne.”

Person A: “I really like beer.”
Person B: “Ah, is that so?”
Person A: “Yes. It’s true.” (or “Yes. It is so.”)
My Japanese is pretty rusty but this is my understanding of the phrase.

Not really. “So” generally points to something that was just said by yourself or by the person you’re talking to, as in: “If I’m a monkey’s ass, then so are you” (Ore ga monkey’s ass nara, omae datte so da). It’s very similar to the English “so” in this sense.

“Hai”, on the other hand, is used as a direct response to a question or summons, like when someone calls your name and you say “Yes?”, or when a teacher calls roll in class and the students respond with “Here.”

It’s not rare at all. I hear it and use it countless times every day. When fresh foreign meat comes into town, they always laugh when they hear me say it cuz they think I’m taking the shit out of someone by saying it.

A girls version can go, “Ah, so na no?”

“Ah so” is kinda abrupt and I used to piss my boss off all the time when I didn’t add the “desu ka.” It can be used in an accusing way when you doubt what another person has said, or when you’ve heard something new, very casually, or with surprise.
Heh, just 5 seconds ago it was used on the phone in my office.

I studied German in high school, and the usage is similar to “Ach, so.” My German name in class was Axel, so it sometimes caused some confusion.
Misrepresented phrase, use it liberally!