So have you noticed the two-letter word that starts so many sentences now? I first heard it in a radio interview. Reporter: “Why do you think we’re a nation of sleep-deprived people?” Expert: “So our studies show that current sleep patterns . . .” My brain said, “What? He sounds as if he’s continuing a previous conversation, but this is the first thing he’s said in this interview.”
At first I thought the introductory use of so was that expert’s personal verbal tic. Then I heard other interviewees begin their answers with “So . . .” So then I decided it was generational – and maybe it is. But recently I was watching public TV’s Nightly News, and there it was again. The expert being interviewed began her answer with, “So . . .” At that point, I began noticing it everywhere. It’s quite possible that this has been happening for some time and I’m just now catching it. If so . . . I’m late to the party.
And so what? For awhile it was, like, every sentence was, like, punctuated with like. Which is, like, still happening. So maybe so is simply taking its turn on the podium. Technically, both like and so are being used correctly in the examples above. At least according to Webster’s.
Like is a chameleon of a word. Depending on the sentence, like can function as a verb, noun, adjective, preposition, adverb, conjunction, or in this case, interjection (as in “I’m like, ‘Who cares?’” Or “It’s like, why are we discussing this?’”) So is not so flexible, but it can be an adverb, conjunction, adjective, pronoun, or interjection. And when it begins a sentence, so is an introductory participle. Who knew?
Still, I wonder if there’s not more going on with the introductory so. Maybe in these interviews, the expert is using “So . . .” as a conjunction. These days we seem to be in a perpetual conversation with ourselves. We never stop talking (tweeting, texting, Facebooking, blogging, posting), so we start an interview as if we’re picking up from the last point we made, wherever we made it.
Or maybe starting with the conjunction so is just a new form of an ancient practice: “And it came to pass . . .”
So if you haven’t noticed, listen up. So is everywhere.
(By the way, in “Maybe so,” the so is an adverb substituting for some preceding clause. In my blog title, “Maybe So,” the clause is the blog itself.)
© 2012 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy morguefile.com