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  So knowledgeable

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  February 27, 2012

So more and more conversations start just this way.

"So" used to be mainly a conjunction, a way to join sequential thoughts. "I saw the opening, so I took it."

Occasionally, sure, you'd hear someone like Moe Howard lead a sentence where something seemed obvious. "So ... a wiseguy, ey?"

Then somewhere along the generational fault line the usage went upscale. For the past few years now, "so" is less often an obvious conclusion or the joining of two thoughts. Rather, it's the abrupt launchpad for a really thoughtful-sounding thought. It makes the rest of us feel deficient; we better get our brains in gear and catch up with this breathless speaker and rapid thinker. But in fact the situation is just the opposite. It's the speaker who needs to gather some steam.

"So the situation in Syria has deteriorated to the point where the Obama administration believes it has to be more directly involved," an NPR correspondent would say to lead off an interview with the news anchor. The question posed would not beg the "so" response at all, but this trendy vernacular does.

What does this new "so" signify? What's going on in the skull of the speaker in the instant before it's uttered? Where did this come from?

"Ach, so..." is a common German exclamation. But our new English usage didn't evolve from that idiom, which translates to "Oh, I see!" — a complete thought. The hanging conjunction so favored on our shores introduces an explanation, rather than in reaction to one.

So what is unstated before this conjunction is blurted and carries us away? (Notice the more traditional use here.)

I have listened to this annoying condescension, especially on NPR and public television, enough to develop a theory. It may seem the implied initial clause is: "I know a bunch of things you don't and 'So ...' "

But it really amounts to an old standby for people taking a moment to gather a thought, as in: "Ummm..." Common synonyms are "Uh ..." or the less flattering, "Duh." Anyone wanting to take me on for beginning a paragraph with "but" should realize that at least it connects to a preceding thought.

In a recently educated demographic, however, quick outburst is in vogue and self-esteem runs high, and we get "So ..." connecting to nothing at all. Where more time is needed, a conversation starter such as, "OK, so ..." is the approximate equivalent of "Ummm, uhhh..."

I'd like to see a new generation evolve as more playful and self-deprecating. Maybe a big comeback is in order for Porky Pig's enunciated "Ibbity-bibbity-bibbity ..." followed by the clincher, "That's all folks!"

But for now, "So ..." is the accepted currency to buy nanoseconds. The fact that those who use it most often go on to sound so sure of themselves really is a marvel, considering how dependent on this device they have become.

So I guess I have nothing more to say on the subject.

Cue the "Looney Tunes" theme. _____________________________________________________________________
Further observations on credible communicaton appear at

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