I’m driving home and listening to my favorite radio station. Here’s how the radio conversation goes:
Interviewer: Can you tell us the current state of affairs in Syria?
Guest: So what we’re seeing is people now returning to Syria. One of the factors is because…
Interviewer: Have you been talking with those that have fled Jordan?
Guest: So they tell me they moved back into houses due to fear. If you have no choice…
Interviewer: What’s to account for the funding shortfall, where refugees can’t get enough food?
Guest: So it’s a political problem with humanitarian solutions, and…
Maybe you’ve noticed it too: people putting the conjunction “So” at the beginning of their sentences. It happens during interviews, and occasionally in prose writing. “So I was in the store yesterday, and…”
The first time I heard it, I said to myself “How rude.” It sounds like the person being interviewed wants to bypass the question being posed. Instead, they continue an earlier thought. To me, it seems like an utter lack of courtesy. Maybe it is.
Although most common with young adults, this phenomenon also affects older folks. According to Business Insider magazine, it has its roots in Silicon Valley. In 2014, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg dropped the “So” bomb four times in a row while sitting for an interview.
So… it’s not enough that Facebook wants to dig into our personal lives. Silicon Valley has also affected the way we communicate. Talk about Revenge of the Nerds.
Maybe the techies in Silicon Valley have their own nerdspeak, and this odd syntax is only now seeping into “normal” society. Maybe their world is so cluttered with numbers, symbols, and acronyms that correct syntax can’t find room.
I have nothing against nerds. As an adolescent, I was probably one myself (and with this essay, maybe I’ve returned to being one). But their language sometimes reminds me of the robotic “duckspeak” of George Orwell’s “1984,” where nouns are linked with verbs to create a machine-like, Big Brother-approved vocabulary. In the business world, one hears the word “leverage” all the time. Isn’t there a less pretentious and less vague word than “leverage?” Or is the idea to be pretentious and vague??
In nerdspeak, though, it’s not about Big Brother. It’s about consciously or sub-consciously conforming to sub-cultural fad. Kind of like attending prep school and feeling the urge to wear corduroy and Docksides.
I can handle fad in small doses. But lately I’ve been hearing the So-fad everywhere. On radio, television, and even during an interview with a supposed English language scholar.
Interviewer: Can a dangling participle be used as an adjunct without modifying the noun?
Supposed English Scholar: So the dangling participle is intended to…
Gosh and golly.
One would expect a grammar egghead to know that the conjunction “So” is frowned on at the beginning of a sentence. It’s like starting a sentence with “But” (something I admittedly do all the time). When “So” is used as a conjunction, it should arrive in the middle of a sentence, since it follows a statement and introduces a consequence (“The NPR interview made no sense, so I turned off the radio.”). But it’s even more irritating when “So” is used, not only at the beginning of a sentence, but also at the beginning of an entirely new thought.
In addition to being used as a conjunction, the word “So” can also be an adverb, as in “That egghead is SO wrong,” or “Zuckerberg is SO nerdy.” These uses of “So” are acceptable.
I’m tempted to call the radio station every time I hear one of these So-people abusing English syntax. But I know how the conversation will go:
Me: Why do you always start your response with the word “So”?
So-person: So what’s wrong with that?
Me: It’s not proper English. It’s almost as bad as pronouncing “ask” as “axe.” You’re chopping up the English language.
So-person: So sue me, ok??!!
It’s a losing battle. Quack-quack.