So what?

Has anyone else noticed the extensive use of the word "so" in conversations over the last several years? I'm talking about what linguists call the "sentence initial-so." For example. Q: "How was your trip to Puerto Rico?" A: "So, we spent the first day in Old San Juan…" Not, used for emphasis when unnecessary: "I'm SO going to the sale at J. Crew today." This is annoying too, but not the subject of attack here.

I was at a meeting last week and the chair answered every question -- I could kick myself for not counting, because it would have been impressive -- with the word "so." If you search this blog, you will likely find lead-in sentences starting with "so." This has become a personal pet peeve of mine. I can't stand when I catch myself saying it. Of course, I became curious about why the "sentence initial-so" went into verbal overkill.

According to askmen, the 10 most overused words today are:

#1: Like
#2: Nice
#3: Gay
#4: Seriously
#5: Bitch
#6: Whatever
#7: Awesome
#8: Ridiculous
#9: Literally
10#: Love/Hate

Honorary mention: LOL (used in Internet talk)

Admittedly, I say all of these words with frequency. Feel free to call me out on it. The subject of this blog, after all, is stuff I love and hate -- but I chose the kinder and gentler version "loathe" instead. Remember Charlotte's BGF (best gay friend) Anthony on Sex and the City? Anthony was direct. That's why I liked his character. Remember when he and Char went wedding dress shopping? "Hate it" he said to every dress presented until they found a winner. Just so you know, when I say I "loathe" a Golden Globes or Oscars gown, I really hate it.

Back on topic. Not surprisingly, language experts have explored "so" usage. A quick trip to blog.dictionary.com -- yes, there is a blog dictionary -- unveiled various theories. Some experts say that "so" is used as a fill-in or pause phrase much in the same way "um," "well," and "like" are used in conversations. A 2010 New York Times article reports some other expert theories. Rutgers Linguistics scholar Galina Boldman says that the "initial word-so," among other reasons, is used to cue the listener that what follows is relevant to the conversation at hand. Check out her research. Linguist and host of A Way with Words Grant Barrett contends that it's used as an acceptable tool to manage conversations.

Interestingly, Microsoft tech nerds have taken credit for the "so" boom. Not sure it's something to brag about.

All of this may be true, but I personally think it's become contagious. You hear it a lot. You start saying it a lot even though it doesn't make sense. Speaking of, I'm sick of hearing more and more people deliver information or instruction followed by "does that make sense?" According to career coach Tara Sophia Mohr, this is one of the top 10 no no's for women to say at work. "This phrase sounds like you think you're incoherent." Same goes for "do you know what I mean?" which I often hear GRITS say'n.  Instead use "what are your thoughts" or "let me know if you have any questions," she says. Makes you sound more confident.

Over lunch recently a friend shared that she gets peeved when people say "no problem" instead of "you're welcome" as an expression of gratitude. I personally don't care for the new trend of people saying "no worries" instead of "no problem." Again, it's contagious IMO.

What overused words/phrases are getting on your nerves these days?

4 comments:

  1. It's funny that you should mention this because my father mentioned that all his students start their sentences with "so" and he feels like he's missed the first part of what they are saying. He loathes it, too, and the poor man has had to endure A LOT of verbal tics in his 40+ years of teaching. I don't mind "so" very much, although I find myself using it when I'm around other people who do which makes me feel a little like Gwenyth or Madonna being faux-British.

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  2. So, I haven't noticed the use of "so" so much. But I do have another speech pet peeve trending with the younger crowd: uptalk. Susannah, I'm sure your father has noticed it. It's when a statement is said with a voice that rises towards the end of a sentence, like a question? I think it sounds very ditzy and ridiculous? But whatever.

    (Sorry Maureen! I just couldn't help myself.)

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    Replies
    1. I forgot about "it's all good." Good one, Suzann.

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