[Ads-l] Meaningless "so" at start of reply sentence

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 14 14:59:01 EST 2017


Heaney's use of "So" came up in the comments on the Language Log post I
linked to.

---
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2570#comment-81190
[Dan Lufkin:] Seamus Heany begins his translation of Beowulf with "So. The
Spear-Danes in days gone by…." The "so" renders OE "Hwæt." Heany comments
on his choice (Introduction, p. xxvii):
"In Hiberno-English Scullionspeak, the particle 'so' came naturally to the
rescue, because in that idiom 'so' operates as an expression which
obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time
functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention. So, 'so' it
was."
---

Also discussed in comments on these posts:

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1872
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4021


On Tue, Nov 14, 2017 at 2:33 PM, Kate Svoboda-Spanbock <
katesvobodaspanbock at gmail.com> wrote:

> Not sure whether any of the references below mention it, but, Seamus
> Heaney used it, followed by a period, to start his translation of Beowulf.
> --
> Kate Svoboda-Spanbock
> katesvobodaspanbock at gmail.com
> 310-880-3091
>
>
>
> On Nov 14, 2017, at 11:10 AM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
>
> > Back when, I somehow got into the habit of introducing a topic with the
> > words, "As I've said," even though I'd not mentioned that topic before,
> > ever. I became consciously aware of it after my girlfriend eventually
> > freaked out.
> >
> > On Sun, Nov 12, 2017 at 9:02 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> >> Googling for "sentence-initial 'so'" yields some familiar faces.
> >>
> >> Geoff Nunberg on Fresh Air:
> >> https://www.npr.org/2015/09/03/432732859/so-whats-the-big-
> >> deal-with-starting-a-sentence-with-so
> >>
> >> Arnold Zwicky on his blog:
> >> https://arnoldzwicky.org/2015/08/11/so/
> >>
> >> Grant Barrett on A Way With Words:
> >> https://www.waywordradio.org/sentence-initial-so/
> >>
> >> Mark Liberman on Language Log:
> >> http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2570
> >>
> >>
> >> On Sun, Nov 12, 2017 at 5:22 PM, Margaret Winters <mewinters at wayne.edu>
> >> wrote:
> >>
> >>> I've been noticing it for a couple of years at the LSA and other
> >>> conferences - younger speakers particularly tend to start their talks
> >> with
> >>> 'so' or 'ok'.  I've been understanding it as a semantic inchoative -
> >> 'This
> >>> is an announcement that I am getting going on my talk'.  I once started
> >>> trying to gather data at a conference (approximate age of speaker,
> >> gender,
> >>> and first word), but got distracted too many times and gave it up.  I
> >> don't
> >>> know of anything has been written on it, but would be interested.
> >>>
> >>>
> >>> Margaret
> >>>
> >>>
> >>> ----------------------------
> >>> MARGARET E WINTERS
> >>> Former Provost
> >>> Professor Emerita - French and Linguistics
> >>> Wayne State University
> >>> Detroit, MI  48202
> >>>
> >>> mewinters at wayne.edu
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>
> >>> ________________________________
> >>> From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of
> >>> Cohen, Gerald Leonard <gcohen at MST.EDU>
> >>> Sent: Sunday, November 12, 2017 5:12 PM
> >>> To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
> >>> Subject: Meaningless "so" at start of reply sentence
> >>>
> >>> Yesterday a friend asked me about something I've noticed for at least a
> >>> year: On TV and radio I often hear a response to a question begin with
> >> the
> >>> meaningless word so.
> >>>
> >>> E.g.:
> >>>
> >>> Question: Did the Democrats have a good turnout?
> >>>
> >>> Answer begins: So let's look at the figures.
> >>>
> >>>
> >>> Has this feature been treated yet in any linguistic discussions?  And
> is
> >>> my impression correct that it is a relatively recent development (the
> >> past
> >>> year or two)?
> >>>
> >>>
>

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