gen-X "so" revisited

Mai Kuha mkuha at BSUVC.BSU.EDU
Fri Mar 2 18:27:15 UTC 2001

My undergraduate grammar class recently collected and analyzed examples of
the so-called gen-X "so" phenomenon (e.g. "We are SO going to party").
Arnold Zwicky's ADS-L post of Aug 31, 2000, was an excellent resource for
us. Our class project was not an extensive one, but perhaps it can shed a
little light on some questions left open back in August.

Not surprisingly, about 70% of the 100+ examples of gen-X "so" observed in
spontaneous conversation occurred with a form of BE, usually immediately
after it. One detail we discovered about the co-existing syntactic systems
Zwicky mentioned was that some students in the class accept "so" either
before or after BE (and would say either 1 and 2), while others do not
have "so" before BE (i.e. would not utter 2):

        1. Dude, you are SO gonna get it.
        2. Dude, you SO are gonna get it.

Zwicky expressed doubts as to whether "so" would introduce predicative
NPs. The following were attested:

        3. That is SO the ugliest couch in the world!
        4. "Appetite for Destruction" is SO the greatest rock album ever.
        5. They are SO the cutest couple I have ever seen.

These structures (all involving superlatives, by the way) make up about
7% of our examples.

Back in August, we were also wondering whether "so" can occur without
auxiliary verbs. About 9% of the examples observed were of this type:

        6. I SO totally relate to you.
        7. You SO rock!
        8. You SO think you are the bomb.

I found it interesting that 2 of 19 students independently made the
observation that, intuitively, there is something adjective-like about the
material that "so" introduces; for example, somehow it "feels" as if
"going-to-take-a-long-nap-today" in 9 names a characteristic of the

        9. I am SO [going to take a long nap today].

Finally, some of our observations suggest that "so" may be associated with
women's speech; maybe this is part of a more general stereotype about
emphatic language, rather than just about gen-X "so". In any case, it was
observed that some men in their early 20s don't just deny ever using gen-X
"so"-- they haven't even heard others use it.


Mai Kuha                  mkuha at
Department of English     (765) 285-8410
Ball State University

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