01 Jun So, buttons on your britches?
Anand Girisharadas of the New York Times addresses a weighty issue that threatens to become a regular topic on Contrarian: use of conjunction “so” to begin a sentence. He notes a National Public Radio interview in which fully one quarter of the sentences began with “so.”
While Girisharadas dredges up a 14th century poem in which Chaucer begins a sentence with “so,” he cites scholars who trace the recent boom in introductory so’s to Silicon Valley, or perhaps to Microsoft employees.
In the software world, it was a tic that made sense. In immigrant-filled technology firms, it democratized talk by replacing a world of possible transitions with a catchall. And “so” suggested a kind of thinking that appealed to problem-solving software types: conversation as a logical, unidirectional process — if this, then that.
This logical tinge to “so” has followed it out of software. Compared to “well” and “um,” starting a sentence with “so” uses the whiff of logic to relay authority. Whereas “well” vacillates, “so” declaims.
Girisharadas also cites Galina Bolden, a linguistics scholar who has written a scholarly paper [pdf] on the use of “so.”
[Bolden] believes that “so” is also about the culture of empathy that is gaining steam as the world embraces the increasing complexity of human backgrounds and geographies.
The ascendancy of “so,” Dr. Bolden said, “suggests that we are concerned with displaying interest for others and downplaying our interest in our own affairs.”
To begin a sentence with “oh,” she said in an e-mail message, is to focus on what you have just remembered and your own concerns. To begin with “so,” she said, is to signal that one’s coming words are chosen for their relevance to the listener.
Hat tip: Now the Details via CH