I recently searched the internet in an attempt to find out why there is an epidemic (no, not the Covid one, the linguistic one) regarding the usage of “so” at the beginning of sentences. I came across an article entitled, “So Here’s Why Everyone is Starting Sentences With the Word ‘So’” by Christina Sterbenz, who cited the fact that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg began four of his sentences with “so” in a single answer. I don’t know that managing Facebook is more credible in a grammatical sense than actually being on Facebook, so I wasn’t sure whether this was a supportive statement or a condemning one.
A familiar usage of “so” at the beginning of a question (“So, how’s it going?”) does little to explain the growing usage of “so” at the beginning of an answer. According to Sterbenz, the elite programmers on Silicon Valley began the phenomenon—yet another reason to not do so?—and Journalist Michael Lewis “noticed its prevalence” in Silicon Valley as well.
Galina Bolden, Associate Professor of Communications at Rutgers University, confirmed through her research that “so” at the beginning of a question is (or was, circa 2008) much more common than at the beginning of an answer. Whereas Fast Company’s Hunter Thurman views beginning an answer with “so” indicates a speaker’s use of “something rehearsed and dumbed down.” Personally, I tend to agree with Fast Company’s assertion that using “so” to start a sentence “insults your audience, undermines your credibility, and demonstrates discomfort with the subject matter.”
When I was taught the usage of “so” at the beginning of a sentence (back when dinosaurs ruled the earth), it continued, explained, and was connected to something that went immediately before. “It rained, so we postponed the picnic.” Simple, right? Subordinating conjunction, right? Used to introduce clauses of result or decision: I got here late. It was a long journey, so I’m really tired now. You’re right, of course, so I think we will accept what the bank offers. (Cambridge Dictionary) And yes, there are five grammatical uses of this multi-functional word: to express consequence (therefore – this happens, so that happens), purpose (in order that), addition (and also), agreement/confirmation (it’s so not true!), or degree (similar to very). Okay. I get it.
And maybe, just maybe the proliferation can be explained with the “and also” usage, but must every newscaster start every response with the same repetitive non-specific intro? Even when he/she isn’t answering a question?
Typical newscaster question: So, Oscar, what do you see as a cause for the riot?
Typical newscaster response: So, Jeanine, Alfonso, Greg and Charlotte – So, I’m here at Fourth and Main. And there’s an ambulance, as you can see. So, the police have arrested a potential suspect, and back to you.
It sounds like an uninformed afterthought instead of a professional, studied response for millions of viewers. Obviously, others are picking up on it as an excuse not to report—simply and succinctly—their findings and informed opinions on matters of importance. Dumbed-down, for sure.
Forgive the Valley Girl phrase, but in my opinion, beginning responses (connected or otherwise) with “so” belongs up there with yet another phenomenon that’s taken over the media – that of talking with the hands instead of the face or the mind. What happened to quiet confidence? Professionalism? The ability to deliver a response without the need to lean on a conjunction for intellectual support?
And must we gesture with fingers spread open like claws in order to be heard? Seriously?
So, what do you think?
Thanks for walking through the corridor with me.