By Barry Lord
So what is it with the word ‘So’ that gets up people’s noses?
Esteemed broadcasters and lovers of language such as John Humphries in the UK and our own Ryan Tubridy have in the past expressed their displeasure at what they view as misuse of this simple two-letter word in everyday conversation.
Maybe you’ve noticed it. It seems particularly virulent among millennials – that is, young men and women born in the late nineties/early noughties – who can’t seem to begin an answer to a question without first using the word so.
Me: What are your plans after the summer?
Millennial: So, I’m thinking of going to uni…
Graham: Off you go with your story…
Millennial: So, I was on holiday and I got drunk and this happened…etc.
And regular listeners to Sean O’Rourke and Marian Finucane on RTE1 will attest to this verbal tic being employed by a number of their guests under the age of 25, like the three young female entrepreneurs O’Rourke interviewed recently.
Sean: How did you start the business?
Guest: So, we looked at the markets and we thought we should do this, etc.
I have to say it didn’t bother me initially, but now something has snapped and I’ve found myself in agreement with the ever growing and grumbling posse of language lovers who treat this word like an irritable earwig.
This may be a worrying sign that I’m entering the age of the curmudgeon a tad prematurely but, believe it or not, I am not some intransigent protector of the English language.
I like the way language evolves, the way certain colloquialisms can blend seamlessly into our everyday vocabulary and there are plenty of new words that can express a feeling or emotion more succinctly than some of those found in the Oxford English dictionary.
In fact, I have no problem with the word ‘so’ when used as an adjective. Wasn’t it Roseanne Barr who once famously told a writer on her show, ‘You are so fired!”?
However, I can find little justification for this new trend. If I was marking a Leaving Cert paper and a pupil began an answer with, “So, the 1916 Easter rising began because of…” even I, who can’t abide red pens, would be reaching for one in a second.
Very simply, if you wouldn’t write it down, why would you use it in speech? Indeed why use it at all?
In a recent article in The Spectator, Dr Penelope Gardner-Chloros, of the department of applied linguistics and communication at Birkbeck College, explained that the ‘so’ phenomenon may be an indication of a need for acceptance.
‘We accommodate, and converge with, the group of people we want to belong to,” said Dr. Chloros.
“Someone using “so” like this may well be doing it because they’ve heard other people doing it. It spreads like the flu.’
Defenders of the word view it as a more favourable alternative to a pause or the uncertain “em” or “uh” used by a person/speaker not in total command of the topic they are discussing, or answering the question that has been put to them.
Those in PR see it as an effective way of ‘managing’ a conversation. I can think of a word for that but this is a family publication so I’ll refrain.
How do we deal with this then? Perhaps we can set an example. Make a protest. One that doesn’t involve throwing away your copy of Peter Gabriel’s So LP, or those oh-so-simple weight shakes.
‘So’ is a conjunction. It belongs in the middle of a sentence. Put it back in its rightful place and we can phase this annoying habit out for good.
In time millennials may follow our lead. But I’m not so sure.