Do you use “so” to manage conversations?

So, letterpress

Over the last few years, lovers of language have casually observed an increase in speakers beginning sentences with the word so. What are some new ways in which so is being used in colloquial speech, and what cues do these utterances send to listeners?

Consider the following example:

Speaker 1: Dr. Johnson, when did you start studying this disorder?
Speaker 2: So, I had noticed certain patients seemed to…

In this example, Doctor Johnson is replying to the interviewer’s question with a sentence-initial so. But why? One explanation is that in this case, so is being used as a filled pause, much in the way that “well,” “um,” and “like” are used in conversation, a topic discussed in the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley. However, according to Lexicon Valley host Mike Vuolo this explanation is overly simplified; so as a discourse marker is “more nuanced” than that. When one person asks a question and the other person’s response begins with so, “it sounds like you should be continuing a narrative,” says Grant Barrett, linguist and host of A Way with Words. So is not being used just to fill a pause, it seems, but as a tool for conversation management.

Researcher Galina Bolden studied recordings of conversations, looking at the difference between the sentence-initial oh and so. In a 2010 New York Times article Anand Giridharadas sums up insight Bolden supplied via email: “To begin a sentence with ‘oh,’…is to focus on what you have just remembered and your own concerns. To begin with ‘so,’…is to signal that one’s coming words are chosen for their relevance to the listener.” If words like so and oh were used to arbitrarily fill a pause, they wouldn’t take on such different functions from each other. Bolden suggests here that the sentence-initial so is a way for the speaker to subtly cue to the listener that the following information is relevant to the listener’s interests. Whether or not the information is actually relevant is for the listener to decide, though perhaps this cue makes it more likely for a conversational partner to pay attention. (If you want to learn more, Bolden’s research is also discussed in this Language Log post.)

Let’s look at another example. Imagine two strangers are talking at a party, and one is trying very hard to carry on a conversation with the other: 

Speaker 1: So, how do you know Myra?
Speaker 2: College.
Speaker 1: So, I met Myra rock climbing at Yosemite… 

In this example, the sentence-initial so is being used in two different ways. So works as a conversational prompt in the first line, and in the third line, so is used to carry on the conversation. In this way, so is a tool that helps ensure the conversation keeps up its pace by allowing a quick transition from one topic to another. Additionally so is sometimes used to change the subject altogether; a person might start a non-sequitur with the word so. It’s a way for a savvy conversationalist to avoid awkward silences. 

Geoffrey Raymond, a Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, explores the sentence-initial so in his paper “Prompting Action: The Stand-Alone ‘So’ in Ordinary Conversation.” Take, for example, the following exchange:

Speaker 1: I went to the grocery store this afternoon.
Speaker 2: Which one did you go to? I love the one on Lawrence and Rockwell. They have excellent produce.
Speaker 1: That’s where I always go. So I was buying avocados…

Raymond calls this the so-prefaced upshot (discussed in detail in this Lexicon Valley episode). Speaker 2 took the conversation on a tangent, and Speaker 1 brought it back to the topic she wanted to discuss; in this way Speaker 1 is able to return to the original narrative. This use of so assumes a certain level of engagement in the discussion. The speaker assumes that the listener is engaged enough to connect the words following so to an earlier moment in the conversation. This kind of assumption harks back to Bolden’s theory that the sentence-initial so is a way of involving a listener in a conversation by somehow indicating that the information to come is relevant to the listener. In this example, so is directly referential, though as we can see from earlier examples, the point of reference can range from obvious to abstruse. The point of reference might not even be a verbal marker in the conversation; it could, as described above in the second example, be something like a feeling of awkwardness.

In English, the word so is highly polysemous. It can be used as an adverb, a conjunction, a pronoun, an interjection, or an adjective. You could argue that the sentence-initial so is an interjection (see the second interjection sense, or sense 16, of well), but the so discussed in this article closely resembles, and might be best described, as a coordinating conjunction. Generally coordinating conjunctions are used to connect words, phrase, clauses, or sentences. However, the sentence-initial so is unique in that the connection being made is more conceptual than grammatical. The items being linked are streams of conversation, and not the traditional adjacent words, phrases, clauses, or sentences. This often irks grammar sticklers, but linguists and lexicographers hear this emerging use of so with the analytic distance of a scientist. We watch. We observe. We wait to see how deeply it permeates the utterances of English speakers. We wonder if it will become a standard way to use so in the future.

Have you heard or seen any good examples of the sentence-initial so? What part of speech do you think the sentence-intial so falls under? Let us know in the comments.

Check back next week for Part II of this post, in which we discuss the dangling so, or when people end their sentences with “so…”


  1. Wills -  November 23, 2016 - 3:20 pm

    “Jim” a typical news presenter checks out the situation from “Windy” a typical reporter…

    Jim:-The dialogue taking place today is rather long winded version of what has been reported yesterday. What is your take on that Windy?

    Reporter:- “Absolutely Jim, so they are now proceeding to engage in dialogue to try and avert long winded explanations of previous reports….

    ‘Absolutely” and “So” are possibly used by the reporter as a continuation of the statement/question the presenter has put…if that makes any sense!!!

  2. Harambe_Lives -  August 27, 2016 - 2:59 pm

    I currently don’t have a phone so can someone please call the depends change crew for me because clearly we have some full ones that need to be changed here.

    You all need to take a firm hold of your nickers, and slowly and carefully pull them out from your bum cheeks because you clearly have something up there.

    I wonder how you don’t see how much you’re nitpicking this whole deal, not every idiosyncrasy or speech habit someone owns has some hidden deep meaning to their positions or goals in a conversation. Someone saying “like” two times in 9 minutes doesn’t mean bush did 911 and your mother is secretly Tupac. “So” Please for the love of God stop looking so deep into small speech habits people have that may not even have a meaning or reason at all. thank you, God bless you, God bless the United States of America, vote for trump, and always remember, Harambe lives.

    • PAL -  September 14, 2016 - 10:11 am

      You seem a bit overly offended by the fact that they look into speech habits. It’s Dictionary.com, it’s what they’re suppose to do. Is it wrong that we find language and people’s habits within language so interesting? If you don’t want to read an article on speech habits then don’t click on it in the first place.

      • Henry -  November 21, 2016 - 12:07 pm

        PAL, I fully agree with you. The sentence initializing “so” along with a number of other funky speech habits tend to drive me a bit crazy. This is just my opinion but to make America great again (a la Trump) requires, among many things, that we renew our commitment to education and paying attention to the details of basic things like speech, vocabulary and writing. Rest assured our counterpart nations around the world aren’t taking any of it for granted.

  3. Paul Drahn -  June 27, 2016 - 1:13 pm

    I watch and read a forum for people trying to use the Arduino microcontroller for a project of theirs. Many questions come from students and invariably they begin their narrative with “So”. I try to ignore that and study their actual project description. Many of the questions seem to be a result of a class assignment. I have wondered about where they learned the “so”.

    A few weeks ago I learned the answer. I ventured to watch the news on PBS and there was a story about a school somewhere on the East coast. The video showed the class room and teacher instructing the students. Almost every statement from the teacher began with “SO”! The children are learning to speak from their teachers! Where is the world going???

    • Jay K -  July 28, 2016 - 4:59 pm

      Surely, the use/misuse cannot be more aggravating and made of nonsense than LIKE.

      I am amazed when intelligent people use like numerous times inside of a couple of minutes when the word does nothing to convey meaning.

      • PAL -  September 14, 2016 - 10:13 am

        Like, what are you talking about, like, Jay K?
        Like, I don’t see your, like, point or, like, something.

        I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

  4. Say What? -  May 22, 2016 - 6:01 am

    So, I would be very interested to know if any linguists who are highly mathematically inclined could or have analyzed various speech components (and even vocal habits) for correlations with the speaker’s social and other characteristics, such as the one mentioned below (“liberal progressives”). For example, it seems to me that most of the young professional women interviewed on NPR invoke glottal fry (what I call creakyspeak) when discussing technical subjects. It’s particularly common among graduate students and junior academics. (They also use the initial “so” more frequently, as noted many times in comments below.) If these associations could be quantified to some reliable degree, we could watch how they change temporally and perhaps geographically. The mathematics used in infectious disease epidemiology might be a useful place to start (and I’m assuming without knowing that it hasn’t been done, but hope to learn details here if it has).

  5. Amy -  May 6, 2016 - 3:28 pm

    I am a court transcriber. I read thousands of pages of transcript every week. People that consistently use “so” at the beginning of sentences are without exception liberal progressives.

  6. Amy -  May 6, 2016 - 3:27 pm

    I am a court transcriber. I read thousands of pages of transcripts every week. People that consistently use “so” at the beginning of sentences are without exception liberal progressives.

    • Sue Ann -  July 29, 2016 - 7:10 pm

      Unless it’s now a required part of the swearing-in process to state one’s political persuasion, I can’t imagine how you would know this. Sounds fishy.

  7. Matt Foley -  February 19, 2016 - 7:17 pm

    Why does this happen? Why did people decide to start beginning sentences with “so”? Very irritating!

    Tonight I was watching Shark Tank on TV and the contestant answered every question with “So, …”. Drove me nuts! I went online and searched to see if anyone else has noticed this irritating trend. Glad to learn I’m not the only one to notice.

    Other irritants that seemed to have appeared fairly recently:
    Ending sentences with “right?”
    “Moving forward”
    “would of”

    Just thought of another one. ABC Nightly News anchor David Muir starts every freakin’ story with “Tonight, …” or some intro phrase with the word “tonight” as if we don’t know what time of day it is.

    • Ralph Ferrante -  March 4, 2016 - 9:46 am

      I have a theory as to the increased misuse of “so”. As we all know, the media, particularly television, has a way of shaping many aspects of our society. If one watches people being interviwed, by virtue of editing, it appears that some are beginning a thought with “so”, when, in fact, I believe that it is occurring at a point that is a link between thoughts. As a result, the viewers have been conditioned by what they see to mimic this behavior, ergo, develop the habit of beginning a sentence with”so”.

    • Prowse! -  April 20, 2016 - 11:08 pm

      A most irriating phrase is , “we’ll circle back to that”, as if to indicate some sort of trouble ahead, where there usually is none, the phrase here is used a conversation controlling device, that the person uttering the phrase is most definately in control.

      A rude approach with this phrase would be, (ignoring the other person’s conversational interests, dimsissing anything tjhey may hvae said) using the phrase, just when the Pseaker 2 finishes a point, SPeaker 1 interrupts with , “Well, circling back we….” drone.

      Another use of the word “so” when it is placed as a trailer, so……(see what I did there?). It is used inplace of “so, you see what I mean, then, ya?”. MOre of a short hand, albeit, to me, a rude short hand. And rather superfluous.

    • TV News Producer -  May 10, 2016 - 10:16 am

      I must comment on the ABC Nightly News trend of starting every story with “Tonight…”
      I hate writing that way, but my boss (and allegedly her bosses) are always pushing that style. “New, now, next” is her mantra. Fine in concept, but it gets annoying when we’re expected to use those exact words in every script. Perhaps we are fooling the people who aren’t paying attention because they are texting or reading Facebook messages at the same time, but the smart viewers just get irritated, and they certainly realize the games that we are trying to play. I hope that someday the high-paid consultants will tell us to start writing smart instead of assuming the viewers are idiots.
      Now you see why I didn’t want to use my name.

    • Joe -  August 31, 2016 - 6:51 pm

      Matt, you are absolutely right! Shark Tank brought me here … I had to stop watching the show because so many of the people start their answers with “so …”. It’s just plain annoying! I heard an interview on the radio the other day of a very intelligent young woman who had done some great charitable thing. The interviewer would ask a question and she started EVERY answer with “so”. “How did you think of this idea?” “So, my sister and I were talking one day …” “How much money did you raise?” “So … we have raised ….” It just went on and on!

  8. Chuck Solid -  January 24, 2016 - 3:26 pm

    I’m not entirely sure from whence this horrible trend of beginning sentences with “so” originally emanated, but as an Aussie who was drilled in the correct usage of the English language, it drives me to distraction.
    It contributes absolutely nothing to the subsequent content of the sentence; apart from making the speaker appear either ill-educated, or a “tosser”. and is, in every sense, completely superfluous!
    Hence. I have come up with a possible solutuon..
    When you are next confronted by a speaker who begins a statement with “so”, simply listen politely, and when it’s your turn to speak, begin your sentence with “superfluous” ! Example: “Superfluous, my dog has fleas!”
    When quizzed by the other party as to why you started a sentence with “that word”, point out that their use of “So” is at best grammatically incorrect and at worst a sign of ignorance, an inability to form a cogent sentence or merely aping other “hipsters” . Hence, your use of “superfluous” has as much validity as their use of “so”! Give it a try. (you have nothing to lose but your friends!)
    Chuck Solid, Melbourne Australia

    • Carl -  January 27, 2016 - 6:32 am

      It makes the speaker appear a complete moron. It drives me mad seeing people answer questions with “so”. If you need to think first, just pause before answering.

      I will use the “superfluous” tip above

      • Duncan -  February 4, 2016 - 3:46 am

        As a Brit I totally agree – the use of ‘so’ has obviously infiltrated management speak as I have friends who use it to begin an answer. When I have asked a question, I already know the topic we’re on, I don’t need to be guided back on to the topic! I really can’t stand it – it irks me so much, to distraction in fact, that they probably need to throw in an extra ‘so’ to get my mind back on track!

        • irk -  February 17, 2016 - 12:16 pm

          I hear this new phenomenon in radio interviews. I think that when someone answers a simple yes/no question, using ‘so’ lets them answer the question with a statement rather than committing themselves to being questioned. For example: question: ‘Did you increase tax on fuel this year?. Answer: ‘So we put taxes on fuel up this year’.
          Question: ‘Is it easy to fly an airliner?’
          Answer: ‘So, flying an airliner is easy’.

          They appear to be evading actually answering the question. Whether that’s their intention or just a new habit is anyone’s guess.

      • Gordon Donne -  March 8, 2016 - 6:15 am


        I was breginning to think that I was the only person being annoyed by this grammatical ‘tic’ I am so pleased that I am not.

        My thanks to all of you.

        Which school of English grammar could be teaching this?

    • john linsdell -  May 13, 2016 - 1:23 pm

      superfluous! from(?) whence. “whence” means “from where”, doesn’t it?

  9. Jiames Dylan Rivis -  January 12, 2016 - 1:32 pm

    Yet another totally annoying speech affectation for this ex-Brit to have to tolerate, lol !
    I have listened to a few people recently, on TV, preface their statements ( I almost used ‘conversation, but it didn’t sit right because when ‘so’ is used, if anything, it steals the interchange to the user of ‘so’). The few times I’ve heard ‘so’ used this way have felt that it was insulting, as though to say ‘ seeing as you weren’t able to make clear what you were trying to relay to me , I guess (sigh) I’ll have to process and rearrange it so that it is comprehensible before I will deign to continue’.

    To which my statement is ‘screw you, you insulting, stilted, controlling twit !’

  10. So Annoying -  January 6, 2016 - 8:35 pm

    Person #1 : Why do you think Trump is gaining so much popularity in the poles ?”

    Person #2 : So, the American people have been looking for a leader who…..etc.

    The use of the word “so” in this context is a new language meme. People are copying each other’s use of this word and has been spreading like a wildfire. I find it SO annoying. Many times the responding person begins their response with “So,” and then starts to give a response that is not even directly related to the question. Like they’re continuing a response from some prior conversation. It really annoys me.

    What is just as bad , if not worse, is another language meme that has started some time ago. The use of the word “Listen” when giving a response to a question. I think This annoys me even more. Media and politicians use it constantly, but so do many others. You people need not say, “Listen” …Of course I’m listening – I

    • peter smith -  January 10, 2016 - 7:00 am

      I look at it as being part of the ever escalating bastardization of the English language. It’s just another product of text speak and defifition altering, which goes hand in hand with revisionist history trends and politically correct euphemization of terms deemed ‘offensive’ growing rampantly in this irritating era called the 21st century. But then I took advantage of the FREE education afforded to me by our then sitting government.

      I also have a problem with the misuse of similarly spelled words. For example, the use of ‘your’ in place of you’re. It drives me up the wall!

      • James Dylan Rivis -  January 12, 2016 - 2:12 pm

        I’m with you,Peter ! Having said that I have to admit that , after almost 50 years on this side of the pond, I have had to accept that all languages evolve but maybe it is the rapidity that is alarming to us who have been conditioned to claim an absolute proprietary claim.
        In North America, mainly in the USA! Certain words seem to change at will into incomprehensible forms, often changing ‘species’ completely.
        The latest abberation which Is driving me crazy is that it appears that Americans are not being taught that we Brits, having used our language for more than a thousand years, have streamlined it so that it flows nicely.
        So, instead of the newscaster saying ” A (‘Eh’ )*lost dog was found after being missing for 334 days” , we say ‘ A (uh) …etc’. If you will note, next time you notice it being used the former way, sentences will seem clumsy, as if the ‘a’ is an obstacle which has to be climbed over.

        Which brings me to lesson #2: You’ll note above that I did not say ‘ a obstacle…’ But, instead changing to ‘an’. This is because, when the noun begins with a (uh) consonant we use the article, ‘a’, (uh) whereas, if it begins with a vowel (e.g. obstacle) then ‘an’ has to be substituted so that the sentence flows easily.

        *(As Canadians use it)

    • john linsdell -  May 13, 2016 - 1:33 pm

      flag poles or Polish people? MUST LOOK as well as “listen”!

  11. A -  December 31, 2015 - 9:47 pm

    I have noticed the use of “so” to begin a comment or question during a lecture at my university. This occurs most frequently in math and science classes, even if it’s use is completely unnecessary. I have begun to cringe when I hear a person begin a thought with it since I hear it so many times per lecture.

  12. Mike Cooney -  December 22, 2015 - 9:36 am

    What about a trend I have been noticing lately where people end a sentence with the word “right ?”, like they are trying to validate what they are saying or something..

  13. Jezza -  December 14, 2015 - 8:22 am

    I mainly hear ‘so’ being used in this way, either by interviewees on news programmes, or by people at work.

    Invariably, they resort to answering with ‘so’ when they are cornered, unprepared, or agitated by a question they have been asked.

    Often, ‘so’ serves as a warning to the questioner that they are tapping a rich vein that the answerer would rather is left alone. Good journalists capitalise on this, and press harder.

    As with all jargon, the prolific use of ‘so’ by supposedly intelligent people has given it legitimacy in the eyes of the sheep-like automatons of the lower echelons.

    Most jargon goes out of fashion, but at the time of writing, ‘so’ remains irritatingly present.

  14. Brette -  December 11, 2015 - 5:49 pm

    This use of starting sentences with “so” is driving me nuts, too. I agree with someone who said it’s a means to control the conversation. When someone is being interviewed, it’s like answering the question with, “So, as I was pontificating before you interrupted me with yet another question.” I suspect media consultants who prepare people to be guests on news programs are partly to blame for this.

    • W -  December 15, 2015 - 2:06 am

      I’m deeply relieved to discover allies here. Replies beginning “So, …” inevitably go on to demonstrate utter condescension and disrespect for the questioner, offering only an (at best) thematically related narrative rather than a direct answer. I suspect its popularity is tied to modern commercial culture’s insistence on “framing conversations”.

      A distinct but also grim crime is the clumsy use of “so” as an adverb. For instance:

      “She offered some kudos for the “libertarian leanings” of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and said she does ‘so respect’ retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.”

      I do not intend a political comment here, but only to point out how very grating this out-of-place “so” is, like a wedding guest in sweatpants.

      Make English Great Again.

      • Mike Cooney -  December 22, 2015 - 9:39 am

        You’re So right, W…

  15. Stian -  December 9, 2015 - 12:25 pm

    I immediately noticed this when I first saw Elon Musk, the co- founder of Tesla and Spacex amongst other Companies, in an interview. If you watch one, you’ll notice how he always starts his replies With ” so, right…” As if he’s having a Lightning fast conversation With himself in order to find the right Words as well as his answer. I just watched an interview With an Author who’s written a biography about Elon, and she does the same thing. Maybe this is more than a fad. Maybe it’s a tool for clearing up the mind before one gives a reply. If you listen to the way Elon talks during interviews, most People would say he needs to improve his speaking abilities. What I have noticed about him is that he sounds one hundred percent honest. In the Words he says and in the way he speaks. So, right..could it be a tool that honest People being interwieved use?

    • Stian -  December 9, 2015 - 12:30 pm

      I don’t know how to default the large letter setting… yet…Thus all the misplaced Capitol letters. Capital or Capitol….and there it is again :/

  16. Bob -  November 10, 2015 - 8:35 pm

    Every time I hear someone start a reply with”So…”, I think to myself “Don’t start your reply with “So”,it makes you sound like an idiot. After that, I totally lose interest in what ever they were saying. So many well educated people use “So…” to frame a response. I wonder if they even hear it?

  17. English Speaker -  September 6, 2015 - 12:18 am

    I don’t have time to wade through all the comments in order to see if mine is a re-iteration of a previous one, SO (wink, nudge), I’ll simply say that the appending of “so” to the beginnings of sentences is by and large a subconscious aping of what has been heard, and is indicative of a person’s conformist tendency. If they prize precision and succinctness in their own English usage above seeming “cool” in that way, the person in question will, instead, make it a point to avoid absorbing such mindlessness from the masses. It’s similar to that Californian idiocy, “I was just kind of like…”, uttered instead of “I said/thought/felt that…”, etc.. I never heard “I was like…” used in that way until a network evening news reporter presented a little “human interest” story on the trend “blossoming” somewhere in California. Within weeks of her presenting it to the world, it was epidemic, and in no time, “progressed” (if one can use that verb to accurately or appropriately describe the occurrence) to being endemic, a nauseating fixture of casual conversation everywhere one turned.

    My point is that such incursions truly are “viral”, in the way that term is employed to describe how something spreads through society at large. They are infections: herpes simplex of the English language, so to speak, and like herpes, subside in frequency of outbreak with the passage of time, but never truly go away. And to some of us, they are repulsive chancres of speech, hideous to behold, causing one to cringe, as from the lash of a whip, because the sheer doltishness of what is actually being said is too much to bear.

    • drew rowney -  October 27, 2015 - 5:00 am

      I think it’s affectation in most cases! I cry for the accuracy of your last sentence. It’s also probably “current” or “on-trend”…YUK

    • drew rowney -  October 27, 2015 - 5:11 am

      I’m not up all night looking for something to make me sleep,it’s 12.05pm here in Scotland! By the way why do you guys say “fit” instead of “fitted” which is correct, and before you sound off, it’s maybe past-tense but the point of time when it fitted him, once it did that, time has passed!

  18. Bob -  May 31, 2015 - 5:13 pm

    So yeah… so… yeah… so so so so so so so so so

    Say so one more time, I double dog dare you!

    • mark harrison -  July 25, 2015 - 8:24 am

      “So” always sounds like they are saying, “So…(now that you are finally done and it’s my turn) what I am here to explain is…”

      • John Hasler -  November 11, 2015 - 2:20 am

        I have noticed a tendency for this to be used by academics in the media. There is an underlying intimation of an unspoken reference to evidence which would, by implication, establish the information following the sentence initialiser as being of definitive provenance.

        • Prowse! -  April 20, 2016 - 11:31 pm


    • mark harrison -  July 25, 2015 - 8:29 am

      So, this is what I think. I am very cool the way I start with “so” all the time, when it merely wastes my breath and eats up your time…

    • Thomas -  September 8, 2015 - 4:01 pm

      Man I’m with you. I can’t STAND this beginning sentences with “So” trend! I really can’t stand it! It irks me to death!

  19. Steve C -  May 17, 2015 - 4:59 am

    The use of the word “So” as a beginning word to a statement of response, is (in my view) a mark to me that the responder is attempting to re-direct the conversation to their own liking. As if to say, “I don’t really care to respond to what you are saying, but I will.” It is condescending, in my view.

    I am also on a campaign for the proper use of the word “Pleaded.” The past tense should be used, “Pled,” as in, “he pled guilty to the charge.

    • joey12345 -  May 19, 2015 - 3:36 am

      Recently I noticed acting CIA honcho Michael Morrell using this “So” sentence starter often in interviews and in testimony before Congress. It is an affectation in my opinion, very off-putting and, although it may not be intended, it is a very condescending way of speaking. It is a head-fake that gives you the impression that the speaker is continuing a thought when in fact they are starting off a thought.

      • jscottmalcolm -  May 27, 2015 - 2:08 pm

        I too heard Michael Morrell on Bill Handel’s talk show. He started every sentence with the word “so”. It bugged the shit out of me. It sounds so condescending.

    • June Kane -  July 23, 2015 - 7:54 pm

      So, you mean I may not complain that I pleaded with my children never to ride on a motorcycle? Is it possible that in the practice of law, “Pled” is a special case? And perhaps it is the past tense of entering s (formal, legalistic) plea. But a mother arguing with her kid to clean his room should still be able to complain “I pleaded with him to do his laundry, but it was to no avail!” Maybe entering s plea is different from arguing with someone?

      • Prowse! -  April 20, 2016 - 11:34 pm

        You most certainly correct.

    • Steve G -  September 6, 2015 - 9:14 am

      The infuriating use of “so” may have started out as re-direction or pretention but when used over and over by supposedly intelligent people on TV and radio, it simply becomes infectious similar to the use of “like” by valley girls 25 years ago. I am afraid it is not a trend or something that will go away anytime soon….much as with “like”. I agree with Joey that it has become an unintended affectation and as such, is not necessarily condescending….just ignorant and annoying. Unfortunately, the proper use of language seems to have become unimportant to anyone other than those of us who refer to websites such as this. It is very sad that professional journalists are some of the worst offenders. AAARRRGGGHHHH!

  20. David St. Hubbins -  April 26, 2015 - 10:36 am

    I am on a mission to stop this “so” annoyance every chance I get. The first time someone does it, I stop them and ask them if they always do I it (they do). The next time (inevitable), I tell them how annoying it is and ask them who they are trying to pretend to be when they begin a sentence that way. I actually have some people apologizing for it now, because they are really trying to stop.

    The only thing worse is someone who begins with “so” and ends in “upspeak”. The same people seem to be afflicted. Fingernails on a chalk board.

    • Tripp -  May 1, 2015 - 3:57 am

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed this affectation of speech in the last few years. The über hip use the word “so ” to begin their answer to every question asked of them -while leaning on their Range Rover clutching Starbucks coffee cup. The misuse of the word “so” at the beginning of the sentence in response to a question, is a calling card to show superiority. It is purposely learned and inserted into the speech library until it becomes a natural reflex. Truly annoying and I can’t wait for this affectation to move on and out of fashion.

      • Paul -  May 20, 2015 - 2:48 am

        I finally searched for the answer why this “so” phenonnemon has happened. It is truly annoying. I bet it started in California, the ultra liberal, bankrupt state.

    • George R Wright -  May 1, 2015 - 8:01 am

      Thanks for your comment. I have gradually become more annoyed over the past several months, when hearing people using the word “so” at the beginning of a sentence. It seems pretentious, obnoxious condescending and very distracting. Another thing you might try asking is how they would diagram a sentence using the word “so” as the first word in a sentence.

      I am for a national movement to protect literate listeners against the use of the word “so” at the beginning of a sentence.

      • Glenda -  July 31, 2015 - 8:33 am

        The problem is that most people don’t know how to diagram a sentence. Some have never heard of such a thing, and others have clearly forgotten how to do so.

        • Prowse! -  April 20, 2016 - 11:35 pm

          YA, loved those. Used to dress mine up as tunnels in an ant farm. Funny how I only got B+’s on my diagramming.

    • john -  May 3, 2015 - 6:27 pm

      I thought that I was the only one who was appalled by this linguistic abomination. I’m in total agreement with everything you said.

    • Vila -  May 12, 2015 - 9:53 am

      So, (haha) I find that there are three examples of the use of the word “so” as a sentence-initial. The first being quite common, which is to use “so” at the beginning of an interrogatory statement…
      1. “So, did you get all of your homework finished”?
      This is in my opinion, the most used or most common form. The next example uses the word “so” to begin a response to an inquiry. Suppose your were just asked in an interview how you came up with the idea for a new invention. Your response might be…
      2. “So, I had just graduated from college and…”. This seems to be more used by today’s trend setters, business Titans and critical thinkers. I also believe it to be a fairly recent phenomena which could represent that it is more “fad” than natural response. The third or most annoying (to me) is what I call the “hey everybody look at me” or “rude” use of the word “so” as a sentence-initial. A good example of this is when two individuals are holding a conversation and an uninvited third party abruptly interrupts with “So I was driving to work today and some jerk cuts me off as I was… This particular use of “so” tends to be used by mostly self-centered individuals which are not capable of considering social space(s) and/or social cues. These individuals simply cannot fathom the idea that others may not be interested in what they have to say although ultimately I believe it represents some form of insecurity. Just sayin…

      • Prowse! -  April 20, 2016 - 11:37 pm

        Only 2 things wrong with that:
        1. You started to list three things, and you forgot the 3rd numeral.

    • Duffloop -  May 13, 2015 - 3:45 pm

      Thank the Lordy I’m not alone in finding this SO wank annoying. And you’re spot on about them using up speak too – what a bleeding combination – arrrrgh!!!

    • Jack -  May 18, 2015 - 9:45 pm

      The thing that annoys me is not just using “so” at the beginning of a sentence, but using it when it is not a continuation of something previously stated. I see Facebook posts all the time which stated something to the effect of “So I was driving to work today and….” I want to respond to those something like “Can you please fill me in on what happened before? Since you started with “so”, I assume that you are continuing a story.”

      The bottom line is that “so” should NOT be the first word in a totally new subject/thought.

    • June Kane -  July 23, 2015 - 8:02 pm

      I feel the same way. It clearly began with the younger generation. And as someone who lived in Jersey for 20 years, where there were many families in our town from Japan and Korea, I’m wondering if a certain constant use of “so” in their English (I.e., used in many more ways than the typical “consequently” or “time-buying pause word” e.g., in Soooo, do you come here often?), might have engendered this crazy new usage? I’ve hear my Japanese friends use so as “so…so….so” the way someone might say “in this way and that way” and many other ways too. And if a cool person uses it to start a sentence, others jump on the bandwagon. Please bonk me on my head if I ever use it that way, though, without the use of “air quotes” that is! Thanks.

      • Lump_Hines -  September 15, 2015 - 12:32 pm

        Japanese say “so…so…so” or perhaps “so desu (silent u)…so desu…so desu”.

        As short for “aso desu ka”…as in “oh, is that so?”. They will continually say it under their breath to give the speaker the respect that they are listening to what he/she is saying.

        They will also do a nodding “uh….uh…uh”…do act in agreement with the speaker while he/she is talking.

        To English speakers it may seem they are trying to hurry you through what you are saying, but once you take a step back and observe, they are giving respect of direct attention and focus to the speaker.

        • Prowse! -  April 20, 2016 - 11:38 pm

          And, circling back…..(another one I hate)

  21. frank -  April 14, 2015 - 1:42 pm

    As David above indicated, “so”-initial seems to be a new craze popular with experts replying to questions. The previous fashion used an initial “OK!”.
    This “OK” was a bit “OK! You asked for it!”. “So” is rather more: “Do you really want to bother me with that question?”.

  22. Bob -  April 5, 2015 - 10:38 am

    Say it ain’t so, Joe!!

  23. Paul -  March 26, 2015 - 12:31 pm

    I discovered this while Googling! This use of “so” has bugged me for months. My wife complains when I turn off NPR because of so many people use “so” to begin a sentence. She says I am too sensitive! Glad I am not alone.

    Also, unfortunately, Our young people are writing sentences beginning with “so”. I frequent a micro controller forum with many posts beginning with “so”. I asked one person to not begin with “so” and he recognized it as a bad habit he had picked up.

    Actually I think it is the result of a virus that is quietly spreading around the country.

    • john -  May 3, 2015 - 6:35 pm

      I too noticed this on NPR when my favorite interviewer, Terry Gross, started beginning all of her questions with “so”. This does not make her look good, and I think she’s a bit too old for this linguistic style.

    • Paul -  May 20, 2015 - 4:05 am

      Ha! I first was annoyed by the word on NPR! I was also annoyed by the use of the word “so” to begin answering a question on the cooking show, “chopped”.

    • David -  July 8, 2015 - 5:39 am

      So-saying by guests at NPR has irritated me to the point of boycotting the station because of the so-Sayers.

      • June Kane -  July 23, 2015 - 8:04 pm

        I love this conversation!! I thought I was alone in detesting this “hip” yet ridiculous usage! And yes, it drives me crazy on NPR. And when Terry Gross used it, I almost wept.

        • Christine Tatum -  January 28, 2016 - 8:23 am

          This starting a response to a question posed by an NPR host, all of them, with the word “so” has been puzzling me for months. At first I thought it might be an editing tool to indicate the beginning of response to a written question. This would be the editor’s cue to insert the response. Now after search the internet I find that I’m not alone in noticing this and also being annoyed, It makes it as if the person being interview was not listing to the interviewer, but leaping in to continue their story. What a relief to find I’m not alone!

  24. tom -  March 26, 2015 - 7:44 am

    Laurie Anderson said that “language is a virus”…this is why so (proper use) many people use the word so often. Used at the beginning of a sentence, it is as apparent as an “ummm” to me; awkward and indicating uncertainty. Currently, I am trying to de-program my 12 year-old son from using this annoying crutch word.

  25. Kween KleoKatra (@KweenKleoKatra) -  December 23, 2014 - 3:48 pm

    I dislike it totally!

    • Anibal Fernandez -  January 27, 2015 - 1:27 pm

      I agree completely. The fact that every government aparatchik uses it to begin a sentence is reson enough to ignore whatever they utter after their prerequisite “So”. So…it seems that there are no original speakers/thinkers in Washington. Any surprise why our country is in such bad shape?

      • Some guy -  April 8, 2015 - 7:56 am

        I… don’t think that’s a very good reason to dislike the government. If you’re going to hate the government, at least blame it on something that actually makes sense, like the fact that 90% of it is corrupt and incompetent.

  26. J Keats -  November 30, 2014 - 6:39 am

    “When one person asks a question and the other person begins their response with so”

    Why is a dictionary site not using correct correspondence?

    It should be written: the other person begins his.

    Their is plural. It was one person.

    • Jex -  December 27, 2014 - 4:48 pm

      I’m with you, but we have to acknowledge that singular they/their has grudgingly become acceptable by most grammar gurus. Because everyone (yeah yeah Shakespeare too) does it, presto: it’s OK. Stupid living language.

      • Dena -  December 18, 2015 - 7:15 am

        I am under the impression (as a non-native speaker) that they/their in singular is mostly used when the gender is unknown.

        “One person begins their response…”
        “Several people begin their response…”
        “Jonah begins his response…”
        “Jane begins her response…”

        I have been told that this is an acceptable way of using they/their ^.^

  27. Kirby -  October 8, 2014 - 11:07 pm

    The use of “so” in response to a question is an indication of perceived superiority. The person answering a question beginning with so is attempting to detach him/herself from a prompt to respond directly to a question. After all, a person who thinks they are smart shouldn’t have to answer directly to a question, now should they?

    You will also notice that many or most of these “so” people are uptalkers as well—another ugly habit of perceived superiority.

    • DWS -  November 21, 2014 - 4:58 am

      Yes, good. Though perhaps so much an ‘indication of perceived authority’, as a device used by the speaker to suggest his own superiority to the merely compliant person who when asked a direct question simply supplies the information wanted. The ‘so’ lets it be known that one does not deign to merely comply to the request for information, submissively, as if the inquirer were in charge of the conversation. No, he is launching out, independently, on his own disquisition on the topic, waving the inquirer away like a bug; or he is continuing his disquisition which the questioner has rather interrupted. I think ‘so’ works to create this impression because in its normal use ‘so’ links one statement to some prior one –as in the paradigm use to mark a consequence; so it marks the statement it introduces as continuing an ongoing discourse. When it occurs outside such a context, in answer to a direct question, the inquirer’s question is made to seem something of an intrusion into some ongoing discourse, and the inquirer seems to be being put in his place, as if to say, “If you will please shut up I will get on with my own explanation of the matter without any prompting from you”. cf. “So –as I was saying/about to say– … “.
      My suggested explanation turns on the point that in normal discourse an answerer is put in a position of having to comply with the wishes of the direct questioner, (a position that — as it sounds– the ‘so’ speaker seeks to reject. This point about direct questions is confirmed by our habit, in polite speech, of adding modifiers to minimize the appearance that we are demanding something of the other party: so to “What’s your name?” we add “if I may ask”, or the like.
      Of course now this ‘so’ is becoming just an annoying fashion followed mindlessly and without any recognition of the implications I’ve suggested.

      • Skeep -  December 2, 2014 - 3:07 am

        I thoroughly agree with this additional explanation. I’ve noticed across the board usage of this little word “so” as an indication of superiority like this post suggests. First noticed the use several years back when State Department press conferences were continually using “so” when responding to every question, as if to suggest to the press that they obviously were of another class of people who did not understand the nuances of meaning. It became infuriating to listen to and has been ever since. It is an assumption of “I am better and more educated than you, so maybe you will understand if I make myself perfectly clear to you.” I do not think “so” should be used at the beginning of a sentence.

      • Jex -  December 27, 2014 - 4:53 pm

        Yes, oll korrect! I also often detect a sense of boredom and even resentment on the part of the user, as if they’ve told this story a million times, to all those who matter, and now I have to go over it all again with the likes of you? OK, OK great, so …

      • JMC -  April 14, 2015 - 9:34 pm

        A demerit for verbosity! Lol
        (demerit for “Lol”?)

      • Don't Call me Surely -  October 1, 2015 - 7:42 am

        Agreed. Add ‘Sure..’ and ‘Absolutely..’ to the mix as well, generally used, I think, in two situations, which may or may not be contradictory:
        1. When ‘So..’ is perceived as insufficient to bridge the chasm between the questioner’s doltishness and the answer-lord’s magnificence.
        2. In venues such as MSNBC, NPR, etc, where they’re used to indicate that the answerer is hip to the whole ‘we’re way smarter than everyone else’ vibe.

    • Irv -  January 2, 2015 - 9:49 am

      Very perceptive! I first noticed the use of “so” as the initial word in answer to a question in Janet Yellen’s press conference during her confirmation hearings. (No, I do not and will not listen to NPR) For some reason it annoyed the hell out of me and just sounded wrong and a gross misuse of the word.

    • brent -  April 28, 2015 - 1:24 pm

      I totally agree. There is a sense of “I am now going to educate you” with my answer. I read somewhere that this all started with Microsoft employees when they were talking about complex projects. I actually first noticed this speech pattern when I saw an interview with Mark Zuckerberg.

  28. Kimm -  September 28, 2014 - 8:01 am

    I’ve noticed that “So” is used alot by entrepreneurs pitching ideas on “Shark Tank.” The words is used with such frequency that a Google search on the matter led me to this article. It is annoying.

    • jjacks -  October 12, 2014 - 12:27 pm

      Right on! exactly what led me here. Makes me nuts!

    • Author -  November 15, 2014 - 12:36 pm

      “So” is an adverb. It is has become a kind of “crutch” for people making extemporaneous remarks in verbal speech and other verbal communications and interviews. It appears to be taking the place of “uh” which was once used very frequently by anyone who was taking a second to think or pause while speaking. It is taking the place of “I Think” and ” You know” which are also frequently used by people resonding extemporaneously. If you take any kind of public speaking course you will be severly criticized for using such phrases. All these pharses are annoying to the listener when repeated before each thought. They make the speaker sound unintelligent and unsophisicated. DON’T DO IT.

  29. Steven Strauss -  September 21, 2014 - 8:41 pm

    I have a strong sense memory of this rhetorical device being used by lecturers during the question and answer period. The lecturer can reword the question just posed, on the assumption that some in attendance may not have heard the question. The lecturer can then change the question greatly (and avoid answering a question they don’t want) with the help of “so.”.

    “So, the question is, am I right or what?”

    When I hear a response start with “so” I feel sure the respondent is implying a relevance that may not obtain.

  30. Tish -  August 30, 2014 - 4:47 am

    Whew! Thank goodness I’m not the only one! I’ve just noticed this trend for the past year or so (and yes, I discovered it on NPR, too). It’s so annoying because these people are using the word “so” where it doesn’t fit! These are people who are supposedly intellectuals, but I lose all respect for them when I hear them do this.

    • Tish -  August 30, 2014 - 4:50 am

      Yes, I know, I meant to take the word “who” out of my last sentence.

      • atl atl -  September 21, 2014 - 5:13 pm

        I mean, so???

    • Daragh -  September 21, 2014 - 4:32 pm

      I noticed this about a year ago; it drives me crazy.

      I’ve also noticed the usage of “only ever” as in “I only ever eat dark chocolate.” The other one I’ve heard quite a bit lately is using ‘meant” instead of “supposed to.” I was “meant” to meet him at noon, but I was late.

      Curious as to how these things start and how they spread so rapidly.

      • DWS -  November 21, 2014 - 5:01 am

        These are both British.

    • Gee -  September 21, 2014 - 5:29 pm

      You are whiter than wonderbread and it shows, you pathetic little hate monkey.

    • DJH -  September 21, 2014 - 10:32 pm

      Gawd, fellow humans who are driven crazy by the insane overuse of ‘so’! Many of you mention NPR too. A variation I hear a lot is – and do i have to add that neither word fits the situation? – when someone being interviewed on NPR is asked a question, and they begin a reply with ‘Yeah, so…’ OR ‘So, yeah…’! WTF?

    • Kirby -  October 8, 2014 - 11:20 pm

      I make a point of calling out these so-ers. How else will they learn? If you hear someone on NPR or anywhere else using the ubiquitous so-in-response-to-a-question blunder, email, Tweet, or send them a Facebook message. Call them out!

      • Dave -  November 20, 2014 - 8:57 pm

        I do the same. I simply would not be able to live with myself if I didn’t do my part to stave off this new trend. It’s annoying, dismissive, and it makes the presenter seem contrived, and unassuming. There’s an article on Business Insider wherein the author actually believes, and states that it “…helps us communicate better.”

  31. Mitch -  August 29, 2014 - 5:38 am

    If it is not overused in a conversation or speech I can appreciate “so” used at the end of a sentence. This new increased usage at the beginning, (made me consider that I had missed a major event spurring its use) of a sentence is difficult to not notice. For me beginning with “so” draws my attention away from the subject. In the worse case I’ve shifted my impression of an official, or expert deploying a strategically placed “so” again at the opening if their remarks. While not necessarily so I’ve considered that they were not quite the professional. A strategic placement of juxtapose is sure to follow in a speech. Non professional use tends to make me consider he or she is attempting to liven their conversation by using a current trend. This is much less annoying than a speaker or “experts” usage.

  32. Dan -  May 17, 2014 - 4:16 pm

    This seems to be the latest “trendy” language. Funny, I was listening to an old Top 40 radio aircheck from the 60′s last week, and the DJ was routinely using words and phrases like “groovy”, “diggin’ it” and “boss”. It was, as Austin Powers would put it, “shagadelic baby!”. Likewise, if you watch an old movie from the 40′s, you’re likely to hear “neat”, “keen” and “swell” more often than not. Linguistic habits are like any other trend….they come and they go, just like CB radios, Members-Only Jackets, Izod sweaters and the DeLorean. This is merely the latest trendy symbol some people use to set themselves apart from the mainstream. History shows, however, that when any trend becomes mainstream, it burns out pretty quickly, mainly because those who want to be different from the masses need to find a new way to set themselves apart. Personally, I’m anxiously awaiting the day when all the trendies will begin their sentences with the word “woof”. Now THAT will be entertaining!

    • Paul -  May 20, 2015 - 4:19 am

      WOOF! I like it!

    • Glenda -  July 31, 2015 - 9:09 am

      I, too, hope it is a trend that will pass – soon. It drives me crazy.

      The difference in the words you mention, and the improper use of “so” at the beginning of a conversation, is that those words are slang language that comes with all generations. The word “so” is a proper word in proper English. The use of “so” at the beginning of a conversation is simply incorrect use of the language, and what the word “so” is supposed to do in communication. Slang is here, and will always be with us through each generation. Some of it actually ends up in revised dictionaries, but “so” is already there and already has it’s use in sentence structure.

      One unfortunate issue is that people are beginning to start written conversations and documents (such as articles) with the word “so.” This is especially annoying because the written word is supposed to be more formal and correct. When people see it written incorrectly, it becomes more engrained as what people will accept as correct. I call it “wrong teaching” for those who do not know, or cannot recognize, what is correct.

  33. Thomas -  April 23, 2014 - 6:54 am

    I use the word “so” in the beginning of sentences to shift listener attention to me.
    Otherwise people do not hear the first part of my sentence and I have to repeat.

    • Naima -  July 21, 2014 - 2:21 pm

      Precisely Thomas! I do the very same thing. It seems to me that no one wants to listen to what others have to say because it’s not about them. Using “so” at the beginning of a sentence does indeed force people to actually pay attention.

      • Michael Bacich -  October 7, 2014 - 11:53 am

        Precisely Naima! It IS all about you, isn’t it? Just as it is with every other narcissist who insists on commandeering a conversation with strategic, but always clunky and rude (and often repeated and repeated!), placement of the word “so”.

        • ABEESHA EBONY -  October 25, 2016 - 10:09 am

          So Michael, so , I couldn’t agree with you more on pointing out Naima’s need to dominate a conversation. So,maybe what she has to say isn’t worth listening to to if she has to use “so” as a verbal pry bar. So.

  34. Tim -  April 15, 2014 - 7:00 am

    My annoyance has lead me to this page. I’m glad I am not alone. I didn’t have a chance to read all of the comments yet but I am working on it. I would like to add that equally annoying (and distracting) is the likely use of ‘sort of’ soon after an NPR type starts a sentence with the word ‘So’.

    If you hadn’t noticed, now you can be annoyed with me when you hear it.

    • Jennifer -  April 18, 2014 - 4:58 pm

      Listen to an episode of HBR IdeaCast. the interviewers use of “sort of” is mind boggling. Sometimes I have to turn off the podcast and just read the transcript.

  35. Don Burton -  March 19, 2014 - 10:16 pm

    People who lead with the word so piss me off from the start and totally ruin for me everything that comes out of their mouths next. All I can think about is, “wow this person being interviewed on N P R thinks he/she needs to sound like a self important intellectually superior snob!” We know you’re a geek already…you don’t have to reassure us of this fact even though you feel compelled to “hold us spellbound” to your “fascinating” monologue. Get the #$*@ over yourself already! Oh no here comes my next part peeve..”the selfie” shoot me now.

  36. Rob -  March 1, 2014 - 2:14 pm

    I agree with Will. I first noticed this on NPR, with almost all their guests and sometimes their reporters starting off with so. Very annoying!

  37. Enrique -  February 28, 2014 - 1:05 pm

    This fairly recent trend is annoying, as is most of what I would call “empty speech”, and conveys information about the speaker that he or she probably would not like. People who have little of substance to say will often fill in their speech with empty words or phrases. Over time, these habits become infectious “ticks”, used by ever greater numbers of people who, perhaps unconsciously, want to feel they belong to the larger group. The particularly British habit of the “tag question” is one such example (isn’t it?). The use of “like” between words seems to especially affect teenage girls. Made up words like “irregardless” is one of my favorites. This happens in all languages, not just English. Language, like fashion, has its trends. Some last; some don’t. We all want to belong, even if we have to sound and look stupid to do it.

    • tony -  June 27, 2014 - 9:48 am

      Since you mention annoying words or speech patterns, the one that makes my skin crawl is “you have to understand…”. This seems to be born out of a genuine desire to communicate; however, the person who says it seems to want to quash any disagreement with his view before the alternative view begins.

      • jscottmalcolm -  May 27, 2015 - 2:21 pm

        Or the ghetto version, “you understand me”?

    • Philos -  September 29, 2014 - 7:47 am

      I think Enrique has it right. So is a recent fad which I hope does not turn into a permanent fixture.

      Does anybody know when the British tag question became widespread?

  38. will -  February 24, 2014 - 7:16 pm

    I cannot stand this trend. Every single guest on NPR speaks this way and it is extremely annoying. Some guests will use it in front of every sentence, then they conclude the sentence with “right?”. That’s like the one-two punch of the self-obsessed pseudo-intellectuals of NPR.

    • tony -  June 27, 2014 - 9:39 am

      I began noticing this on CSpan in the last few months. It does seem to be like a communicable disease that has passed around by individuals who have a certain peer group. Whoa, that may be a little too strong…maybe, not a communicable disease. Maybe the term communicable speech pattern would be more neutral.

  39. Evan -  February 17, 2014 - 2:32 pm

    I googled this very topic because it has been intriguing me so much. The discussion on this blog seems to me the most on-point and in-depth—although, with due respect to many commenters, sentence-initial SO is interesting when it is used in a declarative statement, not an interrogative one. I believe that Nancy’s (Aug 19) & Lyla’s (Aug 17) comments come closest to identifying the phenomenon correctly. I consider this use of SO to be a class-marker, a status-indicator. The article and many commenters allude to its prevalence on radio interviews: I have noticed that too. It is a sign of a rehearsed (to some extent) speech, one that is more thought-out than most everyday discourse. Or more tellingly, it seems to be an attempt to signal that what one is about to say is intelligent, somewhat akin to how “basically” was used in the past. I would venture that it is used disproportionately by university-educated speakers, and even more disproportionately by academics. Very interesting sociolinguistics topic worth pursuing.

  40. Chris P -  January 19, 2014 - 8:24 am

    I thought it was just me. The use of ‘so’ is common in German, but around 18 months ago I began to notice English-speakers in the UK using it. Granted, not everybody. And judging from radio and TV it would appear to be more prevalent amongst better educated folk. It can still cause me to miss what someone’s saying as my head tries to work out why my, or their, interlocutor has inserted the meaningless and confusing ‘so’.

    Almost always ‘so’ makes no sense whatsoever. I confess that I tend to ask people who say it to me if they can explain why they started their response with ‘so’ when its use wasn’t needed to respond to my question. The slightly scary thing is that none are aware they’re doing it. Of course, the users of ‘umm’, ‘well’, ‘like’ and so on are rarely aware of their speech impediment.

    But where does this horrid misuse of English come from? I’m inclined to think TV is at fault. And I suspect it would be Australian or US TV. It’s very noticeable that our ‘proper’ English has been infiltrated by quite a number of Oz slang words which only appeared with “Neighbours” and “home & Away” becoming popular with young folk. The same’s been happening with Americanisms for many years.

    I found this ‘article’ very interesting.

    • RAK -  December 16, 2015 - 6:53 pm

      Please, people, do something about this. It’s becoming an epidemic. It seems the whole so thing is some deliberate, calculated and hidden scheme to form a subculture of these hip, pseudo intellectuals who have some hidden agenda that will become apparent soon.

      How many of you knew that purple was the color of choice for a certain group, being a bit more subtle than the rainbow colors? Look where we are now?

      Why they’re doing it, I’m not sure, but you can bet your so that it’s a deliberate scheme that the elites are implementing, at best, just for kicks.

  41. Peter -  December 13, 2013 - 6:54 pm

    I too have noted this word – “so” – being used a lot, most often when beginning the answers to questions.

    It really is a meaningless pause, and signifies nothing.

    I don’t see it is derivative of anything. I see it simply as a trend that people follow without thinking, and it becomes habit. It is much like the trend over the past 10 or 15 years of people using the word “absolutely” when they mean yes.

    It does get a bit annoying because it has no meaning whatsoever. If the word pointed to some idea, it would be different. But it doesn’t.

    • Michael -  April 2, 2014 - 6:44 am

      I fell upon this discussion while doing research for an article that I’m about to write concerning the recent trend of beginning responses with the word SO instead of using it as a connector somewhere in the middle. I, too, realized its prevalence while listening to interviewees on NPR, and at first thought it simply a misguided generational trend. After putting some thought to it, I’ve begun to conclude that it has a conscious functionality, but a different one than has been raised in this discussion. Does anyone agree that starting a response with SO might be a technique for convincing the listener that what is about to be said is a FACT rather than some subjective rhetoric? In other words, the word SO is being used here subliminally as an adjective– an abbreviation of sorts for “It is entirely so that…”. Very curious.

      • Fletch -  January 27, 2015 - 8:39 pm

        I find the comments of Chris P, Peter and Michael interesting in their progression. These tend to sum-up my thoughts on this fairly well. I consider myself to be well-educated and articulate and have found the “so”-initiator to be quite a distraction as mentioned by most others in this post. When I first became aware of it I began to check around to learn of its origin. In some unrelated viewing of online lectures (mostly professorial classroom), I was interested to hear that a good many professors (mostly of the scientific disciplines) were using this affectation in their lectures. I noticed that they tended to begin a sentence with “so” when they were answering either a student’s question, or a rhetorical question and they would turn to the blackboard to illustrate it and as they turned to write they would say, “So, when X is 212 and Y is 33…etc.” I am coming to the opinion that this “professorial preface” has impacted the impressionable students and they, in turn, emulate their teachers.

        Additionally, while I am here and seem to have a knowledgeable and caring audience, I just want to express how saddened I have become over the years to witness what the media and general public has done to degrade our language and communication skills, particularly in the United States. It is extremely disheartening and I try to do my part to stem the tide of its regression. I ask if all of you would do the same. We truly need to preserve and promote proper language and communication.

        • amethyst -  December 3, 2015 - 7:50 pm

          Fletch, you hit the nail on the head with your likening of college professors using ‘so’ in an effort to explain a theory, idea, etc. I DO remember that in my paralegal classes. It was done quite often and it made sense then. However, this new trend of using ‘so’ at the beginning of a statement/answer grates on my spine!!!! its as irritating as the proverbial ‘nails on the blackboard’ feeling.

          I have noticed this in the young people close to age 30. I’m not certain where or how this started but it is very aggravating for those of us who were taught grammar all through grade and high school.

          One other ‘phrase’ that is equally annoying is the “So, Yeah” used as the end of a thought! So, Yeah? Huh? Arrrrgggggghhhhh!

          Thanks for this site! I too was searching how this became to be ‘so’ prevalent and found myself here. VERY interesting site.

    • patricia -  April 16, 2014 - 1:55 am

      It wouldn’t be so bad (albeit annoying) if it were only adolescent speak, but to hear it being used in serious speech is grating for the stickler-for-grammar me. The interested linguist, on the other hand, sees it as a small change in language use over time. Add on “absolutely”, and “basically” …

      • amethyst -  December 3, 2015 - 7:56 pm

        Patricia, some years back, I guess I used the word ‘actually’, way too much – or so I was told by some former co-workers. I didn’t mean anything by it and I don’t know why I started using that word so often, but I was so aware of it after being called on it, that I rarely dare to use it now.

        Does ‘actually’ make a person sound snobbish or superior? Is it in the same class as basically and absolutely? Just wondering!

    • Mark Harrison -  August 14, 2014 - 12:37 pm

      It always feels to me like they are saying, “So. (We are finally at the important part, now that you are done.)…

  42. Kealin -  December 10, 2013 - 10:45 am

    The unusual and over- use of ‘so’ is creeping in to language in Ireland too. I’ve noticed it primarily on radio interviews and not too much in everyday conversations – but it is SO irritating.

    • King Dong -  April 21, 2015 - 2:19 am

      As in “So, top o’ the mornin’ to ya”.

  43. Steve C -  December 8, 2013 - 2:20 am

    I noticed this by way of our wonderful politicians in Wash DC using “So..” to respond to questions. That was a red flag for me. To me, its a way of cutting off the conversation and starting in the middle someplace. Its a controlling mechanism that locks out the person who raised the question initially. It is condescending in that regard

  44. Jacqueline -  August 27, 2013 - 4:40 am

    So, this is something I’ve picked up in my own vernacular of sentence structure. Sometimes, it’s involuntary, and sometimes, it’s strategically placed to bring up an irrelevant story, in which I can then make it relatable to my audience at that point in time. (You see what I did there?) In addition to that, I have become privy to what can be referred to as “Hipster Speak”, wherein shortened and/or abbreviated terms are inserted for the sake of sounding catchy, or “with it”, or out of just plain laziness. It is a jargon I find myself prompting within my age group more so for the sake of irony. I am, however, one to overuse other “hot word” phrases such as “yeah” (If you were to take this article and replace ‘so’ with ‘yeah’, you would find me relating to the latter similarly.), “really/seriously”,”nice”, and, most of all, “lol”, which can be found at the end of nearly every sentence in my personal conversations.

    Now, clearly, I don’t suffer in the Language Arts field, but merely enjoy taking advantage of a casual setting outside of professionalism when such is not necessary.

    • Michael Bacich -  October 7, 2014 - 12:17 pm

      “Now, clearly, I don’t suffer in the Language Arts field, but merely enjoy taking advantage of a casual setting outside of professionalism when such is not necessary.”

      Oh yes, clearly. I see you over there, not suffering, but merely enjoying taking advantage of casual settings, doing this outside of professionalism when such is not necessary. Language rocks! I mean right?

  45. Chris Miller -  August 27, 2013 - 12:37 am

    Do you want my daughter in law’s phone number? She will make an ideal research subject for you. She begins every phone conversation with a so, usually a request for something. My son (her ex-) also starts an abnormal amount of sentences with so, but often these are more of the non-sequitur type of introducing unrelated, often off the wall, topics. “So I’m out of gas and I have to work tomorrow.” “So, my babysitter is out of town.” “So I know you drove all night but… etc., etc.”

  46. Joyce Marshall -  August 26, 2013 - 1:17 pm

    Thank you so(!) much for this topic. The sentence-initiating “So” has been grating on my nerves for at least that last two years, and of course I hear it more and more as the months, weeks and days tick by. To me it seems to be a new form of “Like…” It diffuses the speaker’s seriousness, but more problematically her/his authority. I hear it almost always from a bona fide expert when he/she is being interviewed. Heaven forbid that we should have clear possession of cogent information! This “So” jag we’re on speaks volumes about our culture and what it deems to be acceptable attitudes and the value it now puts on intellectual achievement.

    • Steve G -  September 6, 2015 - 9:16 am

      I could not have said this any better….thanks Joyce

  47. GingerlyWaysIsBack -  August 26, 2013 - 10:17 am

    uhhhh so, who cares..lol
    why is this important…that’s what should be pointed out
    otherwise this is like people talking about
    grass being green

  48. K Ramanathan -  August 25, 2013 - 8:25 am

    Father: “So, Exams over?”
    Son: ‘So Happy’.
    Father: “So hard the History paper?”
    Son: ‘Not so’. All about so and so events in so many words’
    Father: “So, how was Science?”
    Son: ‘So so’.

    So so meaning below average; so widely used in India!

    • Carlos -  May 22, 2014 - 7:29 pm

      Nice way of showing that it can be correct to start several sentences in a row with “so” .

      Unfortunately the educated types who use it on NPR like to do it when they’re answering questions!! Aaaaarrg!!! X(

      • Michael Bacich -  October 7, 2014 - 12:22 pm

        Exactly, Carlos. Here’s his last example, corrected to have the desired ultra-annoying effect:

        Father: So, how was Science?
        Son: So, so so.

  49. Colleen -  August 24, 2013 - 1:01 pm

    I’m so glad to find this discussion! I HATE this new trend of using “so” to begin an answer to a question. It’s lazy and incredibly annoying.

  50. Don -  August 23, 2013 - 4:09 pm

    So, my theory of America’s fascination with replying to questions with the the word “so” is tied to self importance. It smacks of intillectual snobbery and annoys me to no end!!!!!!! So, there you have it.

  51. Denise -  August 23, 2013 - 11:47 am

    I use so in the beginning of conversations all the time. I use it to tell the listener to pay attention to my point of what came before. My boss took offense one time to me using it and actually had a discussion with me about it. Lol…so I think its quite ok to use it and i dont care who i offend.

    • John -  June 7, 2015 - 1:33 pm

      Communication is a two-way street, piss me off and I’ll shut you out and pretend you don’t exist. You can then use “so” all you want by yourself.

  52. Miles -  August 22, 2013 - 4:43 pm

    I seem to hear the new usage of the initial “so” mostly in radio interviews with academics or scientists. They always begin their learned responses with “so” instead of, say, “well,” or some other lead-in to their response. My impression has been that it is just an affectation started by some admired academic and picked up by students and colleagues to keep up. Maybe my problem is that I listen to too many radio interviews with academics.

  53. Wabbajack -  August 22, 2013 - 2:03 am

    I use “basically” as my default “uh” or “um”.

    “When you get water up your nose it hurts, basically. But it stops after basically a few seconds, so that’s all right… Basically.”

    It gets to the point where I forget what basically even means.

  54. MB -  August 21, 2013 - 6:30 pm

    What is “so’ supposed to mean in the first place?

  55. Danny -  August 21, 2013 - 2:30 pm

    Sew buttons on ice cream.
    So there.
    So tell me …
    So in all seriousness, I’m generally a prescriptivist ass at heart, but I can’t get my panties in a bunch about this manner of speaking. What bothers me more is the use of “historical present.” For example, “So President Lincoln is sitting in his box in Ford Theatre, and his wife Mary is by his side. When suddenly J.W. Boothe bursts in …” As opposed to ” …. WAS sitting …. WAS by … burst in ….”

    • Steven Strauss -  September 21, 2014 - 8:50 pm

      “He’s going away on a horse. A girl is watching him like it’s breaking her heart. It starts to rain.” It’s a present tense description of what we will show in the movie.

      • Steven Strauss -  September 21, 2014 - 8:52 pm

        Either that or it’s “The doctor comes in and he says I’ve got good news and bad news.”

        • Michael Bacich -  October 7, 2014 - 12:26 pm

          OK, tell me the good news first, Doc!

          • amethyst -  December 3, 2015 - 8:15 pm

            L O L ! ! ! (SO sorry, I SO couldn’t help myself) So,

  56. Nazli -  August 21, 2013 - 12:52 pm


  57. Japster -  August 21, 2013 - 10:06 am

    So, the consensus seems to be that it is annoying, however it has become an epidemic. The problem that any living language has is that it continues to change and the usage of words literally changes the meaning and even the definitions of the words that make up that language. Without these changes the language dies. So, we must accept that the colloquialisms and slang usages may actually become the preferred at some point and the traditional meanings and usages may become obsolete as so many other words have hithertofore.

  58. person -  August 21, 2013 - 9:48 am

    My use of the word varies depending on the situation but I have come to a conclusion that I ,myself(as well as people I associate with)tend to utilize this ever so popular “so” in the following scenario

    (set the scene a party of a mutual friend)
    (exes left alone while people are elsewhere)
    guy:so I heard you and my gf had fun shopping last week
    girl:yeah it was fun hanging out with your fling of the month
    guy:that’s nice ….
    (awkward silence)

    (as you can tell it is usually used to fill an awkard silence these days it also works in text conversations)

    • Fletch -  January 27, 2015 - 9:17 pm

      Yes, that being said, it isn’t unusual to use “so” as a conversation starter, an attention-getter/interjection/prompt to get a conversation started. In most of the context in this post, we are citing its irritating use as a prologue to an answer to a question; usually in an interview setting. I urge you throughout the rest of your young life to try not to pay close attention to the language and communication issuing forth from the mouths of news anchors, sports commentators or even presidents these days. They hack the language like a first-day butcher. Listen to William F. Buckley, Jr. on some Youtube posts if you wan to learn to speak with authority and wisdom. Remember, others judge you by the words you use and how you use them.

  59. KellyGofAL -  August 21, 2013 - 7:58 am

    Excellent article. Now, let’s get on with a discussion about the ubiquitous incorrect usages of “myself”. I’m irritated every single day about it.

    • Steven Strauss -  September 21, 2014 - 8:53 pm

      I’m irritated about it myself! :-)

      • Michael Bacich -  October 7, 2014 - 12:29 pm

        Myself is also irritated.

  60. Chris -  August 21, 2013 - 4:47 am

    Interesting Article! Thanks. My pennyworth:

    I really do not like this tendency to answer questions by beginning with the word “so”.
    I hear it often on Radio 4′s Today programme, usually from expert scientists. In the past such responses would normally have begun with the word “Well…” or a similar start-up phrase.
    Perhaps I will get used to it in time but at the moment it makes me wince.
    A made up example would be:
    Radio Presenter: “….We have in the radio car Dr Jane Pipette who has written numerous papers on the decline of the Welsh dormouse…Dr Pipette, why is this happening and is it getting worse?”
    Dr Pipette: ” So, our research shows….”
    Me: “Ahhhhhhhhhh…. Noooooooooooooooooo!”
    Welsh Dormouse: *Sob*

  61. Hlawncheu Moya -  August 21, 2013 - 3:19 am

    Like Jordan, I’d like to re-comment Joe’s comment. Here it goes: “…when they disagreed with something….”. Initially, he’d not better use “with” instead of “to” So long as “something” is replaced with “someone”.

  62. Hlawncheu Moya -  August 21, 2013 - 3:04 am

    So, it’s really good, oh, rather fascinating. So are you? Yea, I know you are So.

  63. Brad -  August 20, 2013 - 11:06 pm

    Speaker 1: Dr. Johnson, when did you start studying this disorder?
    Speaker 2: So, I had noticed certain patients seemed to…


    Speaker 2: Well Speaker 1, I had noticed certain patients seemed to…


    Stop using “so” to answer a question you dumb, uneducated idiots! This is nothing more that Ebonics. It is simply wrong and is an improper use of the word regardless of how much you weave and bob around the issue to make it seem correct while pandering to stupid people who passed English with a D. I know very few young people who can speak properly or God-forbid construct a sentence properly. And we won’t even get started on spelling.

  64. niki -  August 20, 2013 - 6:31 pm

    very interesting

  65. Luna -  August 20, 2013 - 5:15 pm

    I believe words such as so and like are being used as failsafes. They compare what the speaker is talking about to the actual event or item being described. If the information isn’t quite accurate, then the speaker can’t really be held accountable. It’s really quite fascinating, how often we use ‘like’ or ‘so’ without thinking. They show a lack of self confidence in the speaker, possibly why so many teenagers use them.

  66. Sherry -  August 20, 2013 - 8:41 am

    In the casual atmosphere of online blog comments and fb and twitter I’ve developed a habit with “so” being used as an intensifier and spelling it “soo.” I know it’s soo bad, but it just feels right! ;)

  67. Shelley -  August 20, 2013 - 8:19 am

    So, I found this article disappointing. I hoped it would discuss how annoying, weak and irrelevant this constant use of “so” is to start sentences. (For example, the one I started with.) It should be noted as poor English, and I agree with Ms. Vazquez, Mr. Haynes, Mr. Charbonneau and others that it’s a filler or crutch word that adds nothing except a sense of dismissal or condescension.
    However, evidently it’s become so universal – among, yes, mostly younger people – that dictionary.com decided to write of its positive qualities. Yes, it can impart informality, but that is more in the mind of the speaker than of the listener, I think.
    It’s maddening to hear even well-credentialed people begin every single interview-response with the word “so”. It IS just a filler word; it is as bad as saying “y’know” or “like” (yes, what about “LIKE”?! Is that a good thing to use now, too?) (“Right” has also now become a catchword..) or even “um” in every sentence.
    The sense of “informality” has more to do with the user’s fear of simply making a forthright, declarative statement than any real ease for the listener. When I was young and more shy, I used many of these fillers but as we mature, we learn to be more courageous in our speech. It’s like when our parents correct us regarding not saying “ain’t”, or saying “Jason and I” rather than “Me and Jason.” Maybe it sounds more comfortable to our friends to speak incorrectly but it’s also like slouching all the time instead of using good posture: it’s not really helping anybody. Stand up and speak proudly!
    Since Dictionary.com is about learning about words, I was surprised. However, maybe it’s good to be positive about things. Still: I abhor this usage of “so” before every answer and feel it sounds extremely unprofessional.

  68. Steve -  August 20, 2013 - 5:58 am

    It seems to be used to start a response a lot by academics and thoughtful people generally (I haven’t yet noticed it being used by people affecting that quaility). The equivalent to “Clearly” from authorative types and “Obviously” (interchangable with “yeah no”) from less eloquent people. It’s a correct response to a “Why…?” question. Maybe such people are so used to being asked “Why…?” that they become conditioned to respond to everything with a slightly strained patience and a slow, careful explanation.

  69. shabnam -  August 20, 2013 - 1:17 am

    it’s so perfect

  70. weddinginloves -  August 20, 2013 - 12:38 am

    SO,I like tlhis words,Also have a lot of meaning

  71. Karen -  August 19, 2013 - 2:34 pm

    I noticed a while back I was using “so” at the beginning of a sentence as a way of getting someone’s attention when initiating a conversation. It’s kind of a “fluff” word–they don’t have to hear it and I don’t have to repeat myself if I’d started with important information.

    I have, therefore, begun to erase “so” when I find myself typing it. I already have their attention!

  72. Nancy -  August 19, 2013 - 10:25 am

    I started hearing it a couple of years ago, mostly from academics, research scientists and that ilk. I attribute it to the speaker taking a moment to gather his thoughts to try to turn a complex thought into something that (he thinks) a lay person will understand.

  73. Will Saunders -  August 19, 2013 - 9:57 am

    I observed a speaker begin his introduction by saying, “So, I’m John Doe and welcome to the bla bla conference.” That is such an awkward way of speaking. I’ve also heard speakers respond to a question from the audience by beginning with “So” as a language management tool. Where do people learn such things?

  74. James Appleton -  August 19, 2013 - 9:34 am

    I only noticed how much I used the sentence-initial ‘so’ when I found myself wanting to use it when speaking Spanish and finding there was no appropriate translation. It’s actually quite difficult to stop myself wanting to have a ‘lead-in’, as it were, to whatever I’m about to say. So yes, I do feel it has a function and I have no desire to see it disappear, because I have clearly proven to myself that I am incapable of properly communicating without it.

  75. Cyberquill -  August 19, 2013 - 8:37 am

    So, like, starting, like, a sentence with “so” is, like, considered bad form?

  76. Cielo -  August 18, 2013 - 8:39 pm

    So, sow, sew… a needle pulling thread!

  77. jd -  August 18, 2013 - 6:20 pm

    if “so” had a tone to it – like “really” – to convey a genuine meaning, the speaker would be justified in using it. but as it is presently employed, to begin an answer to the initial question in an interview, it is, pardon the george carlin-esque vulgarity, bullshit. it is a meaningless fad; and worse than meaningless, it is perverse, as it implies a continuation on the speaker’s part of what he or she has already been speaking, which is false, as nothing has gone before that initial question and answer. what is truly amazing about its viral use is that one hears it continually among suit and tie wearing mainstreamers on cnbc: the stock market crowd. one expects bullshit shibboleths on, say, npr – but this sort of cultural epidemic on cnbc is, really, truly, beyond explanation. or maybe it’s simply (pity the poor manenkind) a manifestation of conformism. hearing it used now is a total groan, like another bullshit vocal characteristic: the disingenuous tone of voice. lah-dee-DAH-dah-dah, lah-dee-DAH-dah-dah. these latter types are all just so guilelessly precious, aren’t they?

  78. Holly -  August 17, 2013 - 11:31 pm

    Moist, and feces

  79. Jonathan -  August 17, 2013 - 12:30 pm

    This entire thing reeks of prescriptivism…

    • Michael Bacich -  October 7, 2014 - 12:40 pm

      So, don’t you mean “So, this entire thing reeks of prescriptivism..”?

  80. Lyla -  August 17, 2013 - 5:09 am

    Finally, someone is verbalizing my pet peeve. This is something to consider or discuss. It seems that there is a certain class among us using this initial “so”. I listen to NPR almost all day and I count at least a dozen usages in one afternoon, While various conversations with different walks of life thru my day (I’m a barber) it very rarely pops up. Regional, yes, maybe. But also class present? Only the educated and/or somewhat nerdy say it. Not the redneck on the corner. Just an observation

  81. Jeffrey -  August 16, 2013 - 5:41 am

    I know a person that uses the word “so” almost at the beginning of every statement in a conversation. This is both condescending and rude to the listener. I think from now on, when I hear the word so… I am going to physically turn away from this person as she speaks to signal my disdain.

  82. Sergey P -  August 15, 2013 - 10:33 pm

    @Kooky Cookie:

    While both “hypothetical” and “theoretical” have a meaning of “abstract” or “imagined in the mind”, the “hypothetical” has additional counter-factual nuance of “something that did not (yet) happen, but only could (or could not) happen”.

    “Theoretical” has more generic meaning of “abstract modelling of facts/situation”. “Hypothetical” adds the emphasis that it is ONLY a modelling, and probably NOT the case in reality.

  83. Sergey P -  August 15, 2013 - 10:15 pm

    @Jordan Charbonneau: the language itself is very “redundant”. That’s what makes it at times beautiful, and at times ugly. Trying to reduce the sentences to the bare minimum needed to convey an idea will not and can not! Exclamation mark.

    Also, I would argue that the expression “whether or not” emphasizes the “not” part, and thus adds a subtle meaning. The sentence “Whether the information is actually relevant..” would not hint at such an “ironic” possibility, in which the speaker (perhaps intentionally) is trying to hint at the relevancy of the conveyed information, while in fact it is not relevant at all.

    • atl atl -  September 21, 2014 - 5:16 pm

      So…. you may or
      may not be right.

  84. Myra -  August 15, 2013 - 6:25 pm

    It’s funny that my name is in here..

  85. Joe -  August 15, 2013 - 9:55 am

    I hope it’s a passing fad. It sounds terrible. Very annoying. Can’t stand it. Remember when people used to say “HELLOOOO!” loudly when they disagreed with something someone said, did, or what they were doing.

    So…I hope it’s a passing fad. So…It sounds terrible. So…Very annoying. So…Can’t stand it. So…Remember when people used to say “HELLOOOO!” loudly when they disagreed with something someone said, did, or what they were doing”
    So…stop already!

  86. Patrick -  August 14, 2013 - 1:00 pm

    I recently saw a compilation of TV interviews where the interviewee began each response with the word “so,” followed by a brief pause before starting the response where it seemingly should have begun initially. It comes off to me as a way to sound like you’re tying things together, when you’re not – simply a way to sound smarter than you are. I’m always wary of being fed something when people respond to me in this way.

  87. Lorien -  August 14, 2013 - 11:39 am

    Gives a new meaning to Kipling’s “Just so” stories :)

  88. Thomas Mansell -  August 14, 2013 - 9:31 am

    I agree with the comments made by Marie Vazquez (August 9, 10:20 a.m.) and Kaelian (August 12, 12:35 a.m.), and with those attributed to Grant Barrett at the start of this article.

    I am pleased to say I have never heard this usage in real life, but I find it very irritating when I hear it used on radio or television – usually by politicans interested only in trotting out their prepared lines but seeking to give at least the impression that they follow from the question asked, or by scientists labouring under the pressure of trying to condense often complicated and inconclusive research into media-friendly soundbites. (Notice how in the first example above, “Dr Johnson” does not appear to be actually answering the question.)

    It is especially annoying as the initial word in answering an opening question, because (as others have pointed out) it reveals that the speaker implicitly feels this to be the continuation of some kind of monologue which has not in fact been taking place – or at least shouldn’t have been (even internally) if the interviewee had truly been listening to the interviewer. Of course there is an element of artifice about any such interview – but the way this use of “so” both utterly undermines and at the same time seeks to reinforce the pretence that this is a natural conversation really jars.

  89. mdhennessy -  August 14, 2013 - 8:45 am

    I also see the introductory “So” as a story starter or, more generally, an introduction to a new context. Examples: “So, you have these two molecules, and they do this thing. Along comes a catalyst and everything changes.” Or “So, I was in the store looking for widgets. Suddenly I saw these things!” It signals the start of an explanation, more than a word or two. It suggests “hear me out” or “follow this thread”.

  90. toffo3619 -  August 14, 2013 - 8:44 am

    Italians have been using “Allora” for hundreds of years, as we use “So” in English, to give the speaker a split second to think about what they want to say.

    • ABEESHA EBONY -  October 25, 2016 - 10:21 am

      I don’t buy that “time to think about what you are going to say” crap.
      Prior to this “need for time”, people were just able to say what they meant with no need to annoy everyone listening. I received a degree in Electrical Engineering, an often complex subject. None of my prof’s needed that time buffer as they knew what they were talking about, now you can’t crack an egg without 6 “so’s”.

  91. Ian -  August 13, 2013 - 8:29 pm

    If it’s good enough for Peter Gabriel it’s good enough for me!

  92. marseee -  August 13, 2013 - 8:17 pm

    i’ve noticed this VERY often when listening to science friday on npr. it’s often used by guests with scientific backgrouds when responding to questions or statements from the host. it seems like a way to introduce their research or findings. i’ve also noticed it is used in response to yes/no questions, in order to begin explaining a stance on an issue.

  93. Ben -  August 13, 2013 - 2:11 pm

    Being more storyteller than linguist, I think there are a few other ways to define a leading so, or even the trailing “so… yeah” Anne MF mentioned previously.

    “So there I was…” – used to jump into the middle of the action when telling a story; an attention grabber.

    “So?” – seeking commentary on previous acts or events.

    “So… yeah.” – indicating that the judgment should be obvious given the preceding tale; used awkwardly in embarrassment to indicate that if one can’t draw a conclusion based on prior info, perhaps the prior info shouldn’t have been said.

    “So it exploded?” – used to indicate causation; replacing “because of what you were just talking about.”

    In all four of the above examples, “so” is used to reference prior material. The interesting exception is when it’s used to shift gears completely and distance the following from the previous. “So, what are you doing this weekend?” It’s fascinating that a word could gain a dialectic use without misuse or abuse.

  94. Shelterdogg -  August 13, 2013 - 1:40 pm

    So it’s ok to do it now?
    So I suspected.

  95. Daniel -  August 13, 2013 - 9:28 am

    I have not seen the over-use of “so” that much, but I have seen the abuse of conjunctions, such as “but”, in a new line, or even worse, in a new paragraph. Oh, my! Look at the second sentence in the third paragraph above! it is as bad as the abuse of “like”.

  96. jasifmalik -  August 12, 2013 - 10:50 pm

    I have observed this happening to myself. I love the way people use it to elevate their speech in a group of lovelies…………….

  97. Locke -  August 12, 2013 - 9:09 pm

    Many of these comments are dumb!

  98. Locke -  August 12, 2013 - 9:08 pm


  99. Ray -  August 12, 2013 - 2:05 pm

    “So,” is a continuity-checker (which has to be a pun of sorts) in speech form language used to indicate a variety of otherwise printed punctuations for the purpose of introducing, starting, stopping, ending, continuing, and gapfilling.

    The only thing worse, is, “Well–so–?” (indicating not-so-well-but-anyway…).

    Can you believe—dictionary.com does not have the word ‘whoshewhatshis’ which everybody used-to-know is a directory like a telephone book “who’s-he-what’s-his…” What’s, the dictionary coming-to…?!? “Well–So–?”

  100. chuck -  August 12, 2013 - 11:08 am

    In the mid 1990′s I worked at a west coast tech firm where the leading “So, ” was ingrained in every up-and-coming manager’s vocabulary. “So” was so predictable that at a national sales meeting I nudged a new guy and bet that the first word out of the next speaker, whoever it was, would be “So”. Easy money.

  101. lexicon woman -  August 12, 2013 - 8:27 am

    I know of a lady attorney who uses the word “so” to put people on the spot both in her profession and her personal relationships. If someone words something vaguely or in such a way that she feels they are attempting to manipulate her, she responds with, “and so?…..” then just stops talking until they clarify what they mean or intend by their comment. She uses so to lob the conversation back over the transom at them.

  102. replier -  August 12, 2013 - 8:09 am

    Teddy. We use a lot of words that are our ‘crutch’ words. SO is a crutch word. Phrases can also be crutch words…like “it’s driving me crazy”, “I can’t believe it” “that’s awesome!” Crutch words and words of embellishment.

    • Steven Strauss -  September 21, 2014 - 9:01 pm

      Faking enthusiasm is too much work. My two conversational crutch phrases are ungainly: “dynamite!” and “I don’t doubt it.” In my odd world they seem somehow to excuse my sometimes bottomless reservoir of apathy.

  103. Kooky Cookie -  August 12, 2013 - 7:02 am

    This is a very fascinating article! I didn’t realize how common “so” has become in everyday speech! It always seemed so natural!
    My friends and I often start our sentences with “so.” For example, “So, what are you doing this weekend?” I never really thought about.

    To Dictionary.com: I don’t know about other people, but the difference between hypothetical and theoretical has always been unclear to me. Could you clear that up sometime?

    To Haggy: Thanks for the information on psychiatrists and headshrinkers! For some reason, I couldn’t post another comment on the moon article! Well anyway, thanks for getting me started! I’ll be sure to look into that further!

  104. Tim -  August 12, 2013 - 5:25 am

    I have also noticed the use of the expression “Thank You so much” in the past year or so. There I have two uses of the word so in the same sentence. Interesting.

  105. Matt Butts -  August 12, 2013 - 4:45 am

    Whenever somebody says “so…” I promptly sing, “a needle pulling thread.”

  106. Kaelian -  August 12, 2013 - 12:35 am

    Oh my goodness. NO. I noticed this trend and I hate it. Every time someone begins a conversation with “so”, I feel confused, because it seems like I missed something, or that they began the conversation in their heads and they vocalised it in the middle of it. Also it has a complacent aura. We should be able to make absolute statements without the fear of seeming less friendly. To make it clear that a conversation is casual or informal (when the tone of voice can’t be heard, or the facial expression can’t be seen), we have other words to begin our sentences, such as “well” and “oh”. To me, the word “so” is more like a connector (like the word “therefore” or “thus”) to a previous sentence or previous paragraph of the same topic. However, it can be used as way to make a smoother transition into a new topic AFTER a conversation has been initiated properly, and a change is desired, or there’s really not much more to be said about the current topic.

    Hahaha. I agree with Teddy about the dangling “so”. I hear the same with the word “but”. It’s like they don’t know how to complete their thoughts, don’t know what else to say, don’t know what to say next, or they want to say more but they’re too lazy. Often someone will say this as they’re walking away, and maybe this is only -my- feeling, but it seems a bit rude.

  107. Sean -  August 11, 2013 - 9:43 pm

    Dr Johnson did not resort to pause fillers or such contrivances but immediately commenced his reply;
    “So (in this manner), …”
    followed by the description of the matter that had been enquired after. He recognised precision of speech as a precious faculty. It is one well worth emulating if we wish the ability to say what we mean. Our utterances might then be as notable as his for veritable content, free of verbiage.

  108. Victor -  August 11, 2013 - 7:48 pm

    I just googled for the word “onomatopoetic” and was corrected to “onomatopoeic”

  109. Kim -  August 11, 2013 - 3:50 pm

    I also have seen “so” used to initiate a sentence as a way of gently bringing up a sensitive topic or perhaps a topic the listener wasn’t expecting to discuss. It’s meant to convey respect, perhaps deference, and sensitivity yet at the same time addressing something that the initiator feels needs to be addressed.

  110. Jax -  August 11, 2013 - 10:51 am

    So, I’ve found myself as an over-user. I think another theory as to how it slid into conventional speech is through email. Of course email is a written form of language, but with a distinctly conversational tone, and to create that friendly dialog without facial nuances, we’ve had to insert words like “so” to help create that tone.

  111. dennis -  August 11, 2013 - 9:25 am

    @Jordan Charbonneau – spot on. Conveying wisdom or enlightenment.

  112. Anne MF -  August 11, 2013 - 8:06 am

    I have the misfortune of listening to my tweenager and her friends use the following to signify that they are done with the thought they have just spoken: “So……….yeah.” The ellipses signify a purposefully awkward long pause. Sometimes it includes “um” as in “So…um…yeah.”

    It is maddening.

  113. Abigail -  August 11, 2013 - 7:01 am

    I work for Fortune 100 company. The new thing at our company is to begin a sentence with, “So, so, so, the reason for the increased interest…[insert buzz words and phrases]“. It’s quite annoying and in my mind lessens the speakers authenticity and competence. Unfortunately many of our senior leaders employ this sentence opener so it has trickled down to the masses and is now epidemic. Has anyone else noticed this sentence opener as well?

    • Kirby -  October 8, 2014 - 11:12 pm

      Definitely noticed it. The proper English speakers, who are now in the minority, will stand out all the more when they refrain from the gratuitous use of “so” as well as uptalk. They will be the truly authentic speakers, not the postmodern geeks.

  114. Liz -  August 11, 2013 - 2:04 am

    Looking forward to next week’s article! In Dutch, the dangling so (“dus”) is used very often. I used to think there was more coming, but now I know better. It’s just used as a full stop, mainly. It annoys me so ;-)

  115. Frank Haynes -  August 10, 2013 - 8:43 pm

    My observation is that “so” could be dispensed with when used as an introductory, as has become quite common in modern speech in the U.S.. It adds nothing to the sentence that I can detect.

    Take a sample of sentences that use it, then remove “so” and see if you can detect any loss of information.

  116. Heather -  August 10, 2013 - 7:08 pm

    What about so what?

  117. luvmonkey -  August 10, 2013 - 12:25 pm

    “So, what are you doing later?”
    “So, what do you think?”
    “SO! Like I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted…”
    “So, I was talking to my Mom and it’s ok if you come over.”

    I see how they can be continuations of a previous conversation. That artical was a huge info-dump though.

  118. Chris -  August 10, 2013 - 12:12 pm

    What about the use of so as an, what, adverb? “I liked it so much.” Or an adjective? “It was so big.” It seems as if these uses should be followed with a “that” — “I liked it so much that I went back for more.” “It was so big that I couldn’t see the top.” The use of “so” as a substitute for “very” or “a lot” and the like is annoying.

  119. Teto -  August 10, 2013 - 12:06 pm

    People don’t hear themselves saying, “ya know” usually. My sister was telling me something, used “ya know” so much I started counting instead of listening to her. I finally told her, “you have said “ya know” 12 times already and it has stopped my listening to your comments. Please stop.” She was surprised she was doing it.

  120. grammy -  August 10, 2013 - 10:17 am

    I use it to impart the concept that there is information the listener is not aware of, yet. ie a story is beginning

  121. Eric -  August 10, 2013 - 8:04 am

    Questioning relevency: “So?” or “So what?”

  122. Joe -  August 10, 2013 - 7:39 am

    I believe it’s generational. If my memory serves me well, I only seem to hear it from younger people.

  123. john mandel -  August 10, 2013 - 7:14 am

    Italians say “alora”, and Latinos say “mira”, in the same way. they seem to be used to draw attention back.

    • Steven Strauss -  September 21, 2014 - 9:08 pm

      Characters in US fiction of the twenties and thirties made a fashionable habit of using the word “see” as you cite “mira” (“look”) and “alora.” “See, I just wanted to know your name.” It indicates the speaker is in some small sense misunderstood, and in such cases frequently this was a ruse. If somebody finishes a statement with “I swear,” you’re advised to suspect duplicity.

  124. bob peel -  August 10, 2013 - 6:18 am

    Anyone who has not done so should read all the Dictionary.com definition in full. So much to say about so small a word with so few letters and so many interpretations!

  125. artistwagoodi -  August 10, 2013 - 5:12 am

    “So, what?”
    “Sew buttons on your underwear, zippers aren’t in style.”

  126. Ray -  August 9, 2013 - 6:09 pm

    “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” (by Richard Strauss), is so equivalent to “Thus, spake Zarathustra,” that we use it so in English too. But we don’t adverbize it soely as we do with fro and froely, (which word is in lots of google books, but not in the dictionary, so maybe “froely” is an obs. version of “freely–” Afterall, it’s “to-and-fro” meaning “toward-and-free” not “to-and-from”).

  127. Ray -  August 9, 2013 - 5:43 pm

    ‘Oh’, And I also (Heh) use “so” in HTML-scripting (JScript/Javascript/…) where I need a label-mark solely (Heh again!) for Breaking-out from the segment, because it needs no name: it was just a weakness of “natural language” coding that requires such a fallback-construction of labeling–

    e.g. SO:{do-do-do-do-do; IF (check) BREAK SO; ELSE do-do-do-do-more-and-maybe-even-loop-(so)}

    (P.S. And another thing we might look at, is, When, to use a comma after a question-word, Who, What, Where, When, Why, How, Which… to clarify, or otherwise keep clarity upfront, for easier reading… Who ate this cake must pay therefor (or therefore, in this case, works too).

  128. Ray -  August 9, 2013 - 5:26 pm

    (And don’t call me a “so-and-so…”)

  129. Ray -  August 9, 2013 - 5:24 pm

    You mean: the so-called, “so-preface…”


    Or is it so-so…?


    Hollywood calls it, “Cut to the chase…”

    Elementary school teachers taught us that “Once Upon A Time…” was obsolete and that we should begin with “And then…”


    So, It goes…

    And so it goes…

  130. teddy -  August 9, 2013 - 11:17 am

    Where is Part II? I’m very interested in reading what you have to say about the dangling “so”. I think it is becoming a national epidemic and it’s driving me crazy! I can’t believe people don’t hear themselves doing this.

  131. Pen -  August 9, 2013 - 10:26 am

    In his 2000 translation of “Beowulf”, Seamus Heaney uses “So” as a translation for “Hwaet”. The great poet discusses his reasons for this translation in a W.W. Norton blog, excerpted below.


    Hwæt w Gr-Dena in gar-dagum
    Þod-cyninga þrym gefrnon,
    H p æþelingas ellen fremedon

    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.

  132. Marie Vazquez -  August 9, 2013 - 10:20 am

    The use of “so” in recent speech has irked me greatly. I find it dismissive, actually. The respondent is not acknowledging the question directly and appears to be using it as a base to address (or not address, as is so often the case) whatever was being asked. The respondent seems to be taking the listener off on a tangent. The listener then has to infer the connection between the response and the original question. He or she also has to sit through a lot of information that may not be pertinent to the question. The conversation becomes more one sided.

    If it is used to avoid awkward silences as suggested above, it reveals a ubiquitous discomfort with social discourse.

    So, why do you think people are using “so” in so many different ways?

    • Kirby -  October 8, 2014 - 11:29 pm

      Great points!

  133. David -  August 9, 2013 - 8:23 am

    PS: the frequency of the above use has only increased; similar to the now almost ubiquitous use of “Really?!” with an raising note, used to express exasperation like “Are you kidding me?” I first noticed ‘Really’ with that special tone, around 8 years ago; and I believe it started in the West and moved East.

  134. Catlady -  August 9, 2013 - 8:21 am

    What an excellent article! Thank you! I will be back next week!

  135. David -  August 9, 2013 - 8:18 am

    I noticed the following usage, in Arizona, as it so happens, for the first time about four years ago:

    The sentence-initial ‘so’ being used where a question was posed by one party, and the second party uses “So..” with a very slight pause; I believe with the intention and successful effect of urging attention by the listener, and acknowledging that a question was asked. The above being rather similar, to one of the longer standing uses of “OK..”. However, the difference, here, if any, I think is that the more recent use of ‘So..’ is done more confidently, and with the a firmer request for attention.

  136. Suzieque -  August 9, 2013 - 7:11 am

    I’ve found myself using sentence-initial so frequently. For me, it imparts a more informal tone to a question, hopefully rendering it conversational rather than interrogational. I tend to ask a lot of questions, so this is important for me. So, what do you think?

    • Kirby -  October 8, 2014 - 11:11 pm

      Perhaps that is your intention, but the so-ers tend to overuse “so”, thus making the conversation less conversational and more of a laborious, redundant discourse. In other words, you are working against what you are trying to accomplish.

  137. Jordan Charbonneau -  August 9, 2013 - 6:20 am

    But, to the point of the article, I do notice prolific use of “so” in conversations. Interpreted less generously, it sometimes gives the impression that the speaker is about to enlighten the listener (i.e. in a condescending way).

  138. Jordan Charbonneau -  August 9, 2013 - 6:17 am

    “Whether or not the information is actually relevant is for the listener to decide,…”

    The “or not” in this sentence is redundant, since you could simply write “Whether the information is actually…”. “whether or not” is the equivalent of “regardless of whether”.

    • Adam -  October 4, 2014 - 12:39 pm

      I disagree… not with your statement about “or not” being redundant, but with your likening “whether or not” to “regardless of whether.”

      “Whether or not” – while redundant – still indicates that there is a true/false condition to consider; it’s simply incorrectly worded. “Regardless of whether” indicates that it is not necessary to actually know if the result is true or false, because the word “regardless” infers that it doesn’t matter.

      For example, “Regardless of whether it rains tomorrow, we still have to finish that roof.” The conditional “whether it rains tomorrow” is rendered irrelevant by the word “regardless.”


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