Welcome back, readers. Before we begin the meeting, a bit of housekeeping: I’ve been told that some of my subscribers have not been receiving their weekly diatribes on a regular basis, which is to say weekly. As I am an uncompromising stickler for the accurate use of words, you may rest assured that The Weekly Curmudgeon is faithfully published . . . weekly. Won’t you subscribers do your Curmudgeon a small favor by letting me know whether you’ve been receiving these missives in your email boxes each week? You may do so in the Comments section below, or by sending a message via Twitter. Please also tell me what date you received this piece you're reading now. I’d be grateful. (It will also let me know that I’m not writing these things merely for myself. Not that I’d mind. I complain to myself regardless.)
Now . . . on to our subject.
The Curmudgeon has a very low tolerance for what I call linguistic tics—a tolerance so low, in fact, it’s figuratively subterranean. Linguistic tics are those meaningless words and phrases that are mindlessly and repeatedly tacked on to actual ideas, soaking up valuable conversational real estate and communicating nothing. Linguistic tics are the dripping-faucets-while-you’re-trying-to-sleep of conversation. Here are some grating examples of what I’m on about:
—Littering one’s sentences with “likes.” Like, I’m so, like, annoyed by, like, this habit.
—Tacking “you know?” or “know what I mean?” or “see what I’m saying?” after every sentence—know what I mean?
—Adding “I mean” before you’ve even said anything:
“Hi. How are you?”
“I mean . . . I’m okay.”
I found it rather traumatic typing those examples. Indeed, I feel fortunate that I’d taken my medications before doing so, as replacing a deliberately smashed laptop tends to be expensive. But here’s one that’s really been getting under my skin lately. People these days—even allegedly educated folks—have recently developed the atrocious habit of beginning their statements with the word “so.” It’s really quite baffling in that it makes no actual sense.
Host: “Good evening and welcome to the show, Dr. Expertstein.”
Guest: “So . . . it’s really great to be here.”
Or even worse:
Host: “Tell us, how did you get involved with the fan dancing movement?”
Guest: “So . . . yeah . . . it’s a funny story.”
“Well, so what?” you may ask. And that question is exactly the point. Because while the word “so” has an impressive number of meanings for such a small word, all of them obligate “so” to refer to something else.
Correctly employed, “so” can mean:
-in order that (e.g. “I drove my pet emu Marian to the vet so she could get her boil looked at.”)
-as a result (e.g. “I've never been a phlebotomist, so I am unable to assist with Lars’ blood transfusion.”)
-true (e.g. “Everything I told you about my cousin Ramon’s bird-calling talents is so.”)
-also/in the same manner (e.g. “Solange wants flan and so do I.”)
-extent or degree (e.g. “I am so sick of the word ‘so’ at this point that I’m wishing I’d chosen another topic for The Weekly Curmudgeon.”)
Even in those rare instances when “so” begins a sentence, it is still in reference to something. “So, what should we do now?” references the thing that was done before.
“So here we are.” depends on having been someplace else before.
But there is no correct usage that has “so” as a lead-in, which is why exchanges like the following are stupid:
“What happened to your toes?”
“So . . . back when I was a clog dancer . . .”
Even those dirty descriptivists at Merriam-Webster have not added to their heretical dictionary any definition of the word “so” that could remotely justify placing it before any other thoughts.
So . . . look . . . yeah . . . it’s a weird tic. And I find it especially bothersome coming from someone who is supposed to be impressive and authoritative, like those interviewed for television news shows. Sure, if you’re sitting around in the basement watching the game with your unemployed, pot-smoking, dropout cousins and someone asks, “Are there any more Cheetos?” a response that begins with “So . . .” isn’t the end of the world. On the other hand, when it is the end of the world, I’d like the person reporting on it to understand the words they’re using and what they mean. I don’t need to hear “so . . . yeah” just before “It’s time to evacuate immediately.”
These are the things that grate on my nerves. And now that I’ve pointed this one out, it’ll grate on yours too.
No need to thank me. Just doing my job.