So This Week’s Column….

So I think it’s time for me to write about the newest aggravating misuse of speech and writing that is currently sweeping the country. It’s the use of the word “so” when starting a sentence. (Yes, that’s right. I did it myself here, but I did it on purpose. It’s called irony!)

I thought the word “basically” was bad enough when used in almost every sentence, (as in “Basically we went out for dinner and saw a movie.” You don’t need the word basically. Just say you went out for dinner and then to a movie, no basically) but starting off with the word “so” is even worse.

There’s nothing wrong with the word “so” if it is used properly. Many times, in conversation, people will stop their train of thought and say something like, “…So, anyhow…” Or “So, anyway…” as a device to let the listener know that the speaker is finished with a particular thought and will be moving on to another topic or is just through talking altogether. But the “so” always comes at the end, not the beginning. Starting off a thought with “so” sounds like it is a continuation of a thought, not the beginning.

There are, of course, common phrases using the word such as, “And so on (or forth),” “So be it,” “So to speak,” “If you say so,” and “He’s a dirty so and so.” The dictionary defines so as an adverb meaning “to such a great extent. Extremely; very much.” i.e.: “The plot of that movie is so ridiculous it’s almost laughable.” Or “informally used to emphasize a clause or negative statement: ‘That’s so not fair,’ or to the same extent, ‘He isn’t so bad.’”

“So” when used as a conjunction means “as for this reason,” or “therefore.” But to use it that way you need to say something before you say “so.” You wouldn’t start your sentence with “therefore.” It makes you sound like Professor Irwin Corey. (Note to those under the age of 90: Corey is a comedian who appeared regularly on TV long before Twitter was invented. He would come on stage, stare at the audience and the very first word out of his mouth was “However…” God, how I hate having to explain my jokes!)

When used at the start of a sentence “so” adds nothing. The word is completely unnecessary. You might just as well begin the sentence with zucchini or Algenon P. Fortesque, or abracadabra or any word at all. So why are so many people misusing it? (See what I did there? I used it correctly … twice!) Do they think it makes them sound intelligent? It doesn’t. Unless sounding like Professor Irwin Corey has suddenly become cool.

In a last ditch effort to illustrate how dumb this use of the “s” word is, just imagine how some of our most famous literary works would read if the authors had used this stupid trite word at the beginning of their novels.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities:

“So it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Herman Melville, Moby Dick: “So call me Ishmael.”

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe: “So I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good Family, tho’ not of that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull….”

Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca: “So last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

And using “so” to start famous speeches would really dumb down their impact. Can you see Abraham Lincoln standing solemnly at Gettysburg, looking out over the crowd and saying, “So it was four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation.…” Think how FDR’s address to Congress would have sounded if he had said, “So yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

So if you are one of those people who use “so” in this way please refrain. Unless you happen to be Professor Irvin Corey and in that case you may say anything you want … and generally do.

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