It’s an insidious habit, growing by the day, infecting every walk of intellectual life. There appears to be no way of stopping it.

Beginning an answer with the word so.

‘So, Descartes was at the epicentre of the Enlightenment…’
‘So, the real answer to the problem of social exclusion…’
‘So, in the medium term, fiscal control is essential…’

Notice, without the question the answer sounds reasonable, but look again at what happens when you include the question first:

Can you name one influential figure of this period?
‘So, Descartes was at the epicentre of the Enlightenment…’

Several years ago the BBC radio presenter James Naughtie, his blood boiling until the lid came off, penned an article in which he despaired at this nasty little verbal habit. Since then the problem seems to have escalated to the point where nearly every interviewee is at it.

Listen to Radio 4 for one week and you’ll hear it in action. It doesn’t matter which programme it is. In Our Time, You And Yours, Loose Ends, Beyond Belief, I can guarantee 80% of the guests will be guilty of the crime.

Out of curiosity, and a desperate need to reassure myself I wasn’t going insane, I looked on the internet and there are legions of people out there who hate this habit. It’s not the word ‘so’ that’s the problem. As Galina Bolden, associate professor of communications at Rutger University, points out in ‘so’ at the beginning of a question it implies interest and suggests the questioner has been following progress on the subject.

At the star of the answer, however, it sounds ignorant (as if you’re continuing from a previous point before you were interrupted by the question). It sounds pre-scripted (as if you’re incapable of thinking on your feet and need to recall a previously rehearsed presentation). It sounds faddish (the problem appears to have proliferated out of Silicon Valley). And Mark Zuckerberg does it all the time (and if that’s not a good enough reason to stop doing it you really are a shoddy excuse for a human being).

Hunter Thurman of FastCompany summarises it perfectly:

“It’s actually a damaging tendency. Beginning your sentence with “so” orients your message and subconsciously alerts your audience that what you’re about to say is different than what you’ve been talking about up until this point.”

(Read the article here.)

In fact, you’re not half as clever as you think you are if you’re only able to talk on your specialised subject in such a formulaic robotised manner. There’s no fluidity, no ease, no sense of integrity or enthusiasm.

And now, apparently, most people hate you too, not just me. Maybe one day, answering with the word ‘so’ will go the same way as the rising inflection and cock fighting. At best, your families will despise you, at worst, you’ll be tattooed with the word across your foreheads and be forced to walk through the town with a bell around your neck.

I’m not going to conclude this post with a question because some halfwit will think it’s funny and ironic to begin their answer with the word. And we’ve gone beyond ‘annoying to the point of hilarity.’ It’s not funny, it’s not clever and it just makes you look like an absolute ****.

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8 thoughts on “Thank God I’m Not The Only One

  1. You’d never last across the water, Chris. ‘So’ goes at the start, middle and end of sentences, is a favoured interjection at college parties, and is brandished as a weapon of mass destruction by the Irish Mammy.

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  2. My theory is that “so” at the beginning of a sentence has replaced the word “well,” at least in North America. I listen to radio a lot and have noticed that interviewees often begin their sentences with one or the other. Older people say “Well,” and younger ones “So.” It’s as though a meaningless monosyllable is needed before one says anything substantial.

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    • It is definitely used as a substitute for the sounds ‘um’ or ‘er,’ but as Hunter Thurman points out, the word ‘so’ at the beginning of an answer sounds like the speaker isn’t acknowledging the discussion. Any other word would be better than ‘so;’ it distorts the speaker’s intentions and makes them sound arrogant.

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