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Posted: 29 April 2014 11:52 AM   [ Ignore ]
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So about five or so years ago I started to notice that a lot of people speaking in the media were beginning their sentences with ‘so’. Well, it made a chance from ‘well’. It seemed to me to be predominant amongst people in their 20s.

As the years rolled on, I believed it to have become more common across all age groups. And I’ve started to see people use it in forums as well, as I’ve done here, which is marginally more annoying. Though I recognise its function as a means of gaining time or making the introduction of a new topic less harsh, in speech, or just the latter, in writing.

These are just my impressions, however, and may well not be representative. What have other people noticed?

[ Edited: 29 April 2014 11:58 AM by kurwamac ]
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Posted: 29 April 2014 01:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It’s my impression that what we hear from presenters today is more conversational speech and less formal speech. It’s easy to avoid starting a sentence with “So” when writing, but it’s not so easy to avoid it if you’re just talking. It used to be that every word we heard from presenters was scripted, but the trend for many years now has been towards a more conversational tone.

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Posted: 29 April 2014 01:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Ben Yagoda at the Lingua Franca blog for the Chronicle of Higher Education sums up the barrage of stories about beginning sentences with “So.” It may have begun with computer programmers and Microsoft would like us to believe that it began there.

[ Edited: 29 April 2014 01:46 PM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 29 April 2014 01:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Trying to pin it down in OED. As far as I can tell it’s this entry:

so. adv. and conj.

10

b

(b) [Reflecting Yiddish idioms.] Without implication of a preceding statement, or with concessive force: = well then, in that case, very well; also (introducing interrogative clauses) with adversative force: = but then, anyway.

1950 B. Malamud in Partisan Rev. XVII. 666 Miriam returned after 11.30… ‘So where did you go?’ Feld asked pleasantly.
1952 M. Pei Story of Lang. 182 The adverb so at the beginning of a sentence (‘So I’ll pay for it!’), probably of Yiddish origin, occurs frequently in conversation.
1960 ‘E. McBain’ Give Boys Great Big Hand i. 4 ‘I warn you..I ain’t got no wine.’ ‘So who wants wine?’
1977 F. Branston Up & Coming Man v. 49 ‘How much profit..?’ ‘Impossible to do more than make a wild guess.’ ‘So make a wild guess.’

I could be wrong though. There is a bewildering number of entries.

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Posted: 30 April 2014 03:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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First, I would question whether the usage is on the rise or whether certain people have just started to notice that it’s always been there. You’d need a good corpus search to find out, and one using a corpus of actual speech that didn’t elide such particles as newspapers usually do. The bit about Microsoft is certainly wrong. I’m not sure why Yagoda included it; it is so obviously bogus.

There’s more to it than that one OED entry.

First there’s the OED’s 5. c.:

c. As an introductory particle. Also so, so.
This and the two following uses are common in Shakespeare’s plays.
1594 Shakespeare Lucrece sig. D1, So so, quoth he, these lets attend the time.
1602 T. Heywood How Man may chuse Good Wife in W. C. Hazlitt Dodsley’s Sel. Coll. Old Eng. Plays (1874) IX. 55 So, let me see: my apron.
1605 1st Pt. Jeronimo sig. Aiii, So, so, Andrea must be sent imbassador?
1741 S. Richardson Pamela III. xxxii. 251 And I say..So, my good Friends!—I am glad to see you.
1775 R. B. Sheridan Rivals ii. ii, So, so, ma’am! I humbly beg pardon.

Then there’s 10. b. (a):

b.

(a) As an introductory particle, without a preceding statement (but freq. implying one).
1710 Swift Jrnl. to Stella 23 Sept. (1948) I. 28 So you have got into Presto’s lodgings; very fine, truly!
1780 R. B. Sheridan School for Scandal ii. iii. 25 Well,—so, one of my nephews..is a wild young rogue.
1809 Byron in R. C. Dallas Corr. of B. (1825) I. 95 So Lord G* is married to a rustic! Well done!
1881 B. Jowett tr. Thucydides Hist. Peloponnesian War I. 42 And so we have met at last, but with what difficulty!

And then there is Seamus Heaney’s 2000 translation of Beowulf, which opens:

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.

Here the so is translating hwæt. The usual Old English word for so is swa, and (as far as I know) swa is not used as an introductory particle unless it refers to a preceding statement.

[ Edited: 30 April 2014 03:28 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 30 April 2014 05:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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First, I would question whether the usage is on the rise or whether certain people have just started to notice that it’s always been there.

I know it’s good to be cautious about these things, but I do not question that in the least.  I have always paid attention to language and it is obvious to me that introductory “So” has become ubiquitous in the last few years (like contrary-to-fact “may” where I would say “might").  People responding to interviewers’ questions routinely start off “So...” even when there is no conceivable logical connection (that would justify it in a literal sense).  “When did you start to be aware of this?” “So I was walking along 42nd Street...” Have you really not noticed this, or are you just playing devil’s advocate?

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Posted: 30 April 2014 06:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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In my head, it seems as though this usage of So to puncutate a narrative has been common in England for some time. “So I says to meself, Greg, what are you gunna do?”

Also seems to me that it has been a pretty common way to start a joke. “So a horse goes into a bar...”

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Posted: 01 May 2014 03:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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OP Tipping - 30 April 2014 06:23 AM

In my head, it seems as though this usage of So to puncutate a narrative has been common in England for some time. “So I says to meself, Greg, what are you gunna do?”

Also seems to me that it has been a pretty common way to start a joke. “So a horse goes into a bar...”

That’s definitely so (sic).

But to my mind, this latest use of ‘so’ is tied up with sound bytes, especially in the scientific sphere. I somehow always imagined it to be a West Coast Americanism where research bodies thrive(d) and scientists were often called to explain things to the mass tv audience. The use of ‘so’ was indeed to make it seem that what was to follow was not so difficult to understand if you listened. Even if it was the theory of relativity.

But it certainly crossed the ocean quickly, I agree with the OP that it’s about five years or a little more old, not much more.

TYPICAL EXAMPLE, MADE UP

Interviewer on tv: “Can you explain how global warming can be shown to be true, to exist?”

Scientist: “So we have been monitoring the temperatures around the globe for some decades.... etc etc”

Again, also as mentioned in the OP, it pretty much directly replaces ‘well’, which I hardly hear any more on the media (although I do still hear it amongst my circles of English speakers here in Holland, maybe a sign that we are already behind the linguistic times!).

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Posted: 01 May 2014 07:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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In my head, it seems as though this usage of So to punctuate a narrative has been common in England for some time. “So I says to meself, Greg, what are you gunna do?”

Yes, but that’s a different usage, one related to the literal meaning of the word.  The one under discussion here is not continuative/causative, it’s pure filler.  BlackGrey’s example is excellent.

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Posted: 01 May 2014 08:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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So we hear other people using it and we start using it.

That’s how a couple of years in the UK made “as well” and “chuffed” part of my permanent vocabulary.

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Posted: 01 May 2014 11:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Though I recognise its function as a means of gaining time or making the introduction of a new topic less harsh, in speech, or just the latter, in writing.

It also sounds apologetic.

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Posted: 02 May 2014 05:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Listening to NPR this morning, I heard a guy answer two questions with “So...” within a couple of minutes.  “What is it they’re alleged to have done exactly, or failed to do?” “So it means there was an allegation of a sexual assault...” “What does the department do then?” “So the first step is that...” The interviewer starts a number of questions with “So” as well, but that’s the normal continuative use; I hope it’s clear that the examples I cite are completely different.  (You can hear the full story here.)

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Posted: 02 May 2014 08:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Who writes the subtitles for DVDs?

In The Bridesmaid (2004) the English subtitle on Netflix French language disk has a line “So, when is the wedding?” in an informal conversation.

So, apparently by 2004 subtitle writers were using it.

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Posted: 03 May 2014 06:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Again, that’s the long-standing continuative use, not the newly popular one.

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Posted: 06 May 2014 11:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I started hearing this in speech in mid-2006. The only reason I can be so specific is that it started with one particular individual whom I met just after beginning a new job in July of that year. He was my direct supervisor, and whenever anyone asked him a question, the answer invariably began with “So...” It annoyed me, and I remember chiding a coworker who started doing the same thing a few months later ("He may be the boss, but we don’t have to talk like him").

I agree that it’s become a lot more common in recent years. It still annoys me, but I can’t say why - it’s no different from any other filler word, and when someone starts a sentence with “well,” for example, it doesn’t annoy me in the least.

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Posted: 06 May 2014 11:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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It doesn’t bother me.  I even find myself doing it once in a while.  Beginning a sentence with “So” implies that you are continuing a conversation that has been temporarily interrupted.  In our present age, where we seem to be constantly connected with everyone all the time, it sort of makes sense.

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