The Word Guy: That nasty ‘so’ and ‘so’ opens sentences |
More Lifestyles

The Word Guy: That nasty ‘so’ and ‘so’ opens sentences

So … a lot of people are starting their sentences with annoying, useless words and phrases. I mean, my readers are starting to notice. Look, it’s rampant.

David Howe of Avon, Conn., wonders about the “so”ing together of sentences, as in, “So, how was your test today?” “So, your mother called.”

“I suspect we’re just trying to alert the listener (‘Breaker 1-9′),” Howe writes, “but it sounds as if we’re about to explain the consequences of all prior conversation.”

Such “so-so” openers, he suggests, are the oral equivalent of extended email threads, chats or texting.

He’s onto something there. The sentence-opening “so” seems to mimic the pauses between messages in these new forms of electronic communication.

Thus, the spoken “so” becomes the equivalent of the little dots that pop up on your cellphone to show that someone is typing a response to your text (…).

Some of my students are even beginning to write the sentence-opening “so.” Just yesterday, I read this answer on a test: “So … a group of western Pennsylvania farmers got together. …”

“So” also seems to reflect the tentative, listener-sensitive “Are you with me?” tone of young people’s oral communication, a trend best exemplified by “uptalk” (raising one’s intonation at the end of declarative sentences, as if asking a question).

Similarly, Mark Friden of Cranberry Lake, N.Y., writes that more and more people are starting sentences with “I mean” — not to explain or clarify previous statements, but simply to provide a filler.

Tennis players, he notes, are particularly “mean”-prone; he cites this example from an interview with Maria Sharapova: “I mean, it was all I could do to keep up with her.”

“Mean”while, an emailer named “Niheala” writes that she’s fed up with another type of sentence icebreaker: the imperative “look,” as in “Look, we’re doing all we can.”

President Barack Obama, for example, used “look” 26 times during one of his first news conferences and still can’t seem to break the “look-ism” habit.

But while “look” may seem confrontational, defensive or even condescending, some linguists speculate that it simply signals that the speaker is about to provide explanatory information; they note that President Ronald Reagan deftly used “well” this way.

Such subtleties aside, Niheala asks, “Doesn’t anyone just begin with the subject of the sentence anymore?”

So … I mean … look … no!

Rob Kyff is a teacher in West Hartford, Conn. Send reports of misuse and abuse to [email protected] or to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 Third St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.