Beginning responses with the word "So"

This topic has been addressed before, on these very boards (I think **Walloon **was looking for the same information that I am, and the thread didn’t really go that way) and elsewhere (link to a NYT column), but I’m wondering if anyone else is noticing an increase in people beginning responses to questions with the word “So …”

I’m not talking about usage as in “So … my car won’t start; I’m going to be late,” – I’m writing about beginning an answer to a question with “So,” as in:

Questioner: “Why were you late to work?”
Responder: “So, my car wouldn’t start this morning.”

I’d first noticed a few years ago when a co-worker began her sentences with it, but I thought that it was just part of her overall nature. I hear it all the time now: on the radio, on television, from friends and family – and it’s driving me increasingly mad.

It just seems to me like a faintly condescending way to respond to someone: “So” is a shorter way of saying “I’m going to stall for a second to formulate a response to your question in a way that even you might be able to understand.”

It may also be due to me listening to NPR a lot more in the past couple of years – a lot of their interviewees begin sentences with “So …” The NYT column mentions that it may have started with Silicon Valley programmers, and, now that everyone’s an authority on something, the usage has grown.

Has anyone else noticed this increase, and does it annoy you as much as it does me? I’ve gotten to the point that I turn the station from NPR, and I don’t want to be that way.

Add the word “like”…

Also the SDMB response of, "So you are saying… " & then saying what they are claiming is really what I am saying despite my typed out words.

I use the word ‘cool’ too much. Shows my age I might think.

I’ve noticed the overuse of “So” to begin statements or responses to questions. I hate it - it adds nothing. Some people do it to such an extreme that I cease hearing what they say because I’m counting "so"s.

I was in a meeting today, and someone asked the speaker a question. Her response started with “So…”, and I thought about the recent SD discussions about this. I was worried that she wasn’t going to address the question. But shortly after she said “so”, she referenced the question–thus allaying my fears–and then eventually answered it.

I understand why it’s an affectation that grates, but it doesn’t bother me as long as the question is answered.

I hadn’t really noticed before, but now that I think about it, some of my co-workers do say this pretty often, and they do happen to be (non-Silicon-Valley) programmers.

I don’t think it rises to the level of annoyance, at least not for me. It does seem to convey something, though… sort of a… I’m not even sure. “I’ve already been thinking about the answer to your question, and here it is.” Or at least, “I am about to explain something complex,” or something. It is kind of odd.

So, here’s a recent thread on the subject:

ETA: a more recent thread

So…how you doin’?

I did do a Google search on the Board, I swear, for this before I did the OP. Very good discussion in there – thanks for the link!

We have discussed it more recently than that. Perhaps you will find more relevant responses there; it was directed specifically at the usage as found in interviews.

guizot suggested that it is spreading from a professorial register as people use it when attempting to sound authoritative. My theory–which can coexist with his–is that it’s being used as a marker for context establishment. That is, when people use “so” in this manner, they are saying “I’m going to start by setting the context, then tell you something within that context.” This is consistent with most instances of the usage by professors and interviewees.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that people who have picked up that usage from listening to lectures and interviews are using it correctly themselves. You car example, for example, is an incomplete usage. The response sets the context of the car not starting, but does not go on to elaborate within that context.

A complete usage would be more like this:

Questioner: “Why were you late to work?”
Responder: “So, my car wouldn’t start this morning. I tried to jumpstart it, but eventually had to call a tow truck and get a rental car.”

It establishes the context, then details the activities which actually resulted in the tardiness.

I’m not endorsing the usage, just exploring its possible meaning and process. However, I will note that a similar construction has long had a place in the introductions of certain forms of in media res storytelling, most commonly as “So there I was…”

ETA: Bah. That will teach me to write a full post to go with a link. :stuck_out_tongue:

Even with Balance’s examples, I think the word is completely redundant at the start of a sentence or response. Removing the word “So,” doesn’t change the meaning.

I am also a long-time NPR junkie and have noticed this extremely irritating trend become common in the last couple of years. Some interviewees respond to almost every question in an 8-minute sentence with “So…” Academics and tech-type people seem to be the worst offenders. Authors, artists, musicians and politicians don’t often do the so thing.

I dislike it as much as “I’m like…” and “she’s like…” Ugh.

“and I was all like…”

Tsk tsk, you got it wrong.

“So, I was all like…”

So I’m all like You’re Welcome.

So what? (heh) Most of these "so"s don’t occur in written text–only in speech. Speech conveys much more information that the literal meaning of the words, and there’s value in establishing a context for the listener. “My car wouldn’t start” is direct; almost confrontational–is the speaker angry? Softening it with a “so” puts the listener in the mood to hear the rest of the explanation.

I probably do use it too much, though. It’s definitely common in Silicon Valley.

It can act as a sarcasm marker as well. Add a “so” and you don’t have to go quite so overboard with tone to keep the sarcasm obvious.

Well I get it as a sarcasm marker, for sure. (Heh.)

But not using “so” is angry and confrontational - whut? Since when? :confused: Perhaps here in the Midwest we’re more comfortable with being direct and not worried about hurting the moods of sensitive listeners, I dunno.

As a verbal tic, it makes me quite stabby. Thankfully I’ve yet to encounter this in real life because I’d HAVE to say something.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s just one element among many. Like using the passive voice instead of active, “so” adds a bit of indirection that acts as a softener. One could be angry with a “so” or perfectly pleasant without, but adding the word might push you over a threshold (all else being equal). I also suspect you’re right that Midwesterners are a bit more comfortable with being direct.


Oh my goodness. A lot of people I know are guilty of using the following:

So I was like, and she was like… and I honestly have to admit, I talk this way sometimes. It is funny because I would never talk in my work like that.

In Boston, we have a really weird way with all kinds of words, sayings, meanings.

So, like, I guess I am just used to it whenever I am around others who speak like this, I always regress. No biggie to me.

Now, todays kids (including my own) drive me up a friggin wall with all the new talk and sayings due to technology. They will really say in a sentence : That was so funny, LOL. Or will end a sentence with j/k. It is like a whole new stupid language, maybe even worse that the I was like, She was all like… manner of speaking.