Sunday, December 04, 2011

So, this bothers you, does it?

I thought I was reasonably aware of common linguistic peeves. I generally don't like them because I don't like to dislike things, but I do understand them. Some people don't like 'free gift' as well as 'for free' - I understand. Some detest 'literally' used non-literally - all right, I get it.

But starting a sentence with 'so'? We all do, don't we? Who among us has never uttered 'So how are you?'?

Well, apparently, it is worse than I thought. Or at least it appears to be trendy to detest it - here is an interesting clip from BBC Today. There is also a New York Times article on the subject, reflecting the rise of the usage.

For now my biggest question is, will I now be able to enjoy listening to the immortal piece 'Wish You Were Here' by Pink Floyd (which starts with a double 'so': 'So, so you think you can tell ...') like I have done so many times -  or will this stupid peeve thing somehow ruin the tune?


Brett said...

That double initial so is indeed classic, and I'm sure the peevers' mewlings won't do anything to diminish it. Seamus Heaney takes this up a notch, I think. He doesn't just start a sentence with so; he starts his entire verse translation of Beowulf with it. As a one word-sentence no less.

"Conventional renderings of hwæt, the first word of the poem, tend towards the archaic literary, with ‘lo’, ‘hark’, ‘behold’, ‘attend’ and – more colloquially – ‘listen’ being some of the solutions offered previously. But in Hiberno-English Scullion-speak, the particle ‘so’ came naturally to the rescue, because in that idiom ‘so’ operates as an expression that obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention. So, ‘so’ it was:

"So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns."

Thomas said...

“I generally don't like them because I don't like to dislike things, but I do understand them.”

It took me a few readings to understood this sentence.

Tyson Seburn said...

So, it doesn't bother me, except in an academic writing assignment. <--predictable of me to start with "so", wasn't it?

Then again, traditionally, beginning and written sentence with a conjunction is frowned upon, at least as far as I knew. However, in many articles from scholarly journals, I've noticed then all over the place. "But" is a particular offender. So, I am reevaluating my stance.

Brett said...

There's a nice followup at Word Origins.

Brett said...

Tyson, any frowning upon of sentence-initial conjunctions is likely the result of misguided elementary school teachers. See this post and this one. The Oxford Guide to Canadian English and Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage both put the kibosh on the notion.

Tyson Seburn said...

I've definitely never been vehemently against it. There's what's usual and then there's style. I'd say the conjunction at the beginning is style. =D

Q Higuchi said...


Thanks for the info; the sentence-initial _so_ is truly mighty with Beowulf on its side.


Sorry if it was unduly painful exercise for you - but it was not as bad as this, was it:

By the way, I find a parallel phenomenon in Japanese, too: starting one's utterance with 'dakara' or 'desukara' (which is pretty much equivalent to 'so') is now quite common, and is starting to annoy some people. And we do not have Beowulf to support it.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Some people utterly refuse to accept that sentences don't exist in isolation. Context usually governs, and sentence-initial 'so' is usually not at all like walking up to a total stranger and having your first word ever be "so" ...