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

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Wed Nov 15 09:50:43 EST 2017


One more link on sentence-initial "so" -- Ben Yagoda's 2011 piece for the
Chronicle's Lingua Franca blog.

http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2011/12/02/so-it-turns-out-that-everyones-starting-sentences-with-so/

On Tue, Nov 14, 2017 at 2:59 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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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