Sunday, November 16, 2008

The "So" Neologism

(This entry is coming to you from the Grizzled Old Prescriptivist department of Isoceleria.)

The worst sort of neologism is the sort that you're not aware that you're using. When I caught myself sending a sentence with the antecedent-less "so" the other day, I immediately asked myself "isn't this the exact sort of thing that I should hate?" Yes, yes it is.

You know what I'm talking about. "Hey, why didn't you guys go to the game?" "We were planning to, but Dan didn't want to go, so..."

"Aren't you going to do your calc homework?" "I don't know--I've done the rest of it, and we get to drop one, so..."

My biggest problem with "so" is its grammatical nonsensicality. In this context, this seemingly benign conjunction transforms its meaning from "therefore" to something approximating "which explains what I just told you". This is not useful. "Dan didn't want to go, so we didn't" is a fine sentence. So is simply "Dan didn't want to go."

Therefore, it seems like the "so" neologism is nothing more than a rhetorical crutch. It doesn't mean anything. It's not important to elucidating the meaning of the sentence. In fact, it muddles it if anything. This use of "so" is in fact exactly like the French "t" that's stuck in the middle of words so the mortal sin of consecutive vowels isn't committed. But it doesn't even have the French excuse of making the phrase sound better.

Instead, it shows an utter lack of confidence on the speaker's part to simply end the sentence where it ought to. And it's a becoming more and more accepted crutch to lean on.

Currently listening: "Spiralling", from Perfect Symmetry, Keane (review to follow)


Reneé de la Curée said...

You must really hate when people say ummmm then.

Matt Pavlovich said...

Yeah, but not as much as you might think. It's probably conditioning. I was brought up hearing "um" all the time, and this "so" business is completely new.

I do think when people use "um" when they're giving an oral presentation or something like that, it screams of unpreparedness.