In 1960, humorist James Thurber wrote a piece for The New Yorker titled “The Spreading ‘You Know'”, in which he decried the use of that phrase by people who couldn’t bear to leave short gaps of silence in their conversations. Thurber’s essay was all too prophetic. More than 50 years later, those dreaded two words have overrun people’s monologues to the point that we hardly notice it anymore.
And now, hot on the trail of The Spreading ‘You Know’ is The Slithering ‘So.’
I didn’t notice this social malady until I went to work at a new job four years ago. I worked with a guy who seemed intent on mangling the sound of the English language with every sentence he spoke. It wasn’t enough that he ended every sentence, no matter how declarative it was, with an upsweep that made it sound like a question. (“I’m meeting my girlfriend for lunch to-day?“) When you’d ask him an actual question, invariably he would begin his answer with “So.” (“Why has Sandy been out all week?” – “So he told me he had to visit his sick aunt in Atlanta.”)
This co-worker eventually left for another job, and I thought that would be the end of it. Then shortly afterwards, we got a new supervisor who spoke exactly the same way. As you can imagine, this made every staff meeting quite the exercise in tolerance.
I actually did not realize that the word “so” was, er, so multi-functional until I consulted an online dictionary. Depending on context, “so” can serve as an adverb, conjunction, pronoun, adjective, or interjection. However, in the cases to which I’m referring, my primary gripe is with the abuse of “so” as a conjunction and an interjection.
When “so” is used as a conjunction, it connects two clauses to form a single sentence — basically, connecting two related thoughts.
“So” is also used as an interjection to express surprise or to draw attention to something.
In the instances where “so” is abused, it is used either as a semi-conjunction — providing the final thought without its preface — or as an interjection in which the speaker is so self-important that he thinks everything he says is worthy of extra emphasis. Either use is enough to drive the casual conversationalist up the wall.
So do you get what I’m saying? So please think about the use of those precious two letters when you are trying not to alienate people with your everyday conversation. So the life you save could be your own.