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

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Wed Nov 15 12:05:11 EST 2017


Yet another "so" thinkpiece today in The Guardian...

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/15/so-whats-the-problem-with-so-bbc-radio-4-john-humphrys

On Wed, Nov 15, 2017 at 9:50 AM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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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