Brian Edwards Media

So Here Is The News

The little word ‘so’ has recently taken on a new meaning for New Zealanders. People have started using it as a space-filler at the beginning of an answer, in the same way that they use ‘well’.  In reply to the question, ‘How are you going to get the country out of this recession?’ you might have heard:

‘Well, we’re going to kick-start the economy by selling off the Southern Alps.’

Now you may hear:

‘So, we’re going to kick-start the economy by exporting beneficiaries.’

This sounds a bit odd – and it is a bit odd.  Starting a sentence this way turns ‘so’ into a type of conjunction and implies that you are expanding on or explaining something that has preceded it:

‘Social Welfare is costing too much and we need more exports, so we’re going to…etc’

But in this strange new construction nothing has preceded ‘so’. You’ve got a conjunction hanging in mid-air with nothing to join up.

‘What are you doing for Christmas this year?’

‘So I was just saying to Nigel that we should consider going to Afghanistan.’

You’ll frequently hear ‘so’ at the beginning of a question, but in this case it’s logically attached to the previous answer:

‘…and then we’re going to clear-fell the kauri forests and grow our own palm oil.’

‘So how are you going to get support for the legislation?’

We became hyper-aware of this new habit of preceding every answer with ‘so’ a few years back when we were media training a young woman in the communications department of a major corporate. She was unable to start an answer with any other word. For a while it seemed that this was linked to gender; you heard it only from women. Now it has spread across the gender divide. This isn’t unexpected, because many socio-linguistic changes begin with women. Today it has even been taken up by our male politicians.

In the National Party opening broadcast, John Key began each answer to the ‘spontaneous’ audience questions with ‘So…’

A few nights ago I noticed Russel Norman doing the same thing in an interview, and I’ve heard other politicians come out with this construction on The Nation and Q+A.

I’m confidently expecting our new Governor General to give it the stamp of approval in the Speech from the Throne at the next opening of Parliament.

It’s a bit disconcerting, but then a living language is always doing interesting and illogical things.  ‘So’ – it’s probably here to stay, and we’ll eventually get used to it. But I still think it’s odd!

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  1. All I can say, after listening to John Key, is I can no longer hear, or use, the word ‘actually’ without cringing. It’s become like scratching nails across a chalkboard.

  2. I mean ‘blackboard’ (no gap). It’s been so long since I’ve seen one I’d forgotten what they were called :)

  3. I think politicians use “so” when answering questions so they can reframe the question first, then address THAT rather than the original question.

  4. Glad I wasn’t the only one to spot John Key saying that at the start of every answer!

  5. this use of ‘So’ has become quite common in the last 18 months on some US dominated email lists that I follow.
    Doesn’t just get used when replying to a post in an existing thread but also appears as the first word of a post that stars a new topic for discussion – must confess I find it a bit disconcerting but nothing like the tedious habit of using basically as a ‘noiseword’ in each and every attempt to provide an explanation about something – to my mind this behaviour basically means that the speaker probably doesn’t know what he/she is talking about!

  6. There are worse crimes. “The reality is ….” for example. Not to mention the soon-to-be-extinct “Quite frankly…” Those irritating little intensifiers come and go. “So…” is quite a clever device because it implies the speaker is engaging with a previous idea or question, when that may not be the case. So, it will have its day and be replaced by something just as annoying.

  7. don’t you mean: ax-shully? JK uses it about every 6th word….

    JC: So, I think you mean ex-shully, don’t you?

  8. Brian, it’s the death of English as we knew it.

    There is now confusion around the correct use of the verb ‘to be’. As in, ‘There is one’, or, ‘There are many’. The verb of a sentence must agree with the subject in number and in person. People are saying things like, “There is reasons for this”.

    The confusion is spreading to the verb ‘have’. I hear constructions like, “There has been reasons for this”. ‘Has’ is the singular form of ‘have’.

    Is it all because grammar, punctuation and spelling are little taught in schools today? I just can’t understand our apparent inability to form a good sentence now. Our grammar seems to be getting worse and worse. I’m not even qualified to comment on it. I didn’t study English at university level.

    BE: Thanks, but it’s Judy’s post.

  9. When one considers all the verbal clutter we have to listen to, for example ‘going forward’ and ‘a perfect storm’, not to mention ‘umm’, and ‘err’ and ‘between you and I’, the word so is comparatively harmless.

    Just accept that all politicians speak with forked cliche.

  10. It’s either “So” or “Look” – John Key and Paula Bennett are the worst culprits.

  11. well…so.

  12. You may find the article in the following link of interest

    JC: Thanks, Ben. Fascinating piece from the NY Times. And the comments that follow are worth reading as well.

  13. So look couple of things if you take a step back actually I’m of the view that the reality is at the end of the day actually in terms of …

    … very quickly we’re running out of time …

    … so look I’ve managed to say nothing that anyone could disagree with at the end of the day so actually … that’s why you’re voting for me.

  14. Yeah, it IS very odd, isn’t it ? And more than a little irritating, I have to say.

    Seems to have originated in the US. First heard it used in a Kim Hill (or Chris Laidlaw) interview with an American academic or writer on National radio a few years back. He began every single bloody answer with “So”. I still find it quite bizarre.

    Also irritated by ‘Hey”, instead of “Hi”. I realise, of course, that “Hi” is also US slang, but at least it traces its origins to that most charming of decades: the 1950s !

  15. Why is it that television news reporters start sentences with “Now,…”? Is it what they’re trained to say?

  16. “what we’ve said is….” another passive aggressive JK ism.

  17. Gramma asks me about my day, and I say, “Me and my friend played soccer.” She says, “My friend and I played soccer.” I say, “At your age?”

    from Mind Your Gramma by New Zealand author Yvonne Morrison

  18. JC, I’m really worried. The prefacing of speech, using “So”, has assumed viral proportions, by leeching into the domain of newsprint; I afeared, it’s becoming a pandemic.

    A noted Herald columnist, starts off her column (Pg. 14 in The Business Herald) with that word. And, worse, as a One-Word sentence!! It’s to show us how stricken she’s become. I’m guessing, it was a pre-planned plaintive — and muted — cry for help.

    Shall I inform her ed. of her silent suffering? Or will you?

  19. I think you’ll find ‘so’ isn’t the only word changing. A lot of my school friends now say ‘ackeds’ (pronounced ah-xed, hard h) instead of asked. It’s very common at school to hear ‘so’ at the start of a sentance, or to be used as a simple answer.

  20. I wouldn’t be at all sure that “So,…” is here to stay, Judy. Some of these vexatious attacks on our language do so, while others have their day and quietly disappear. One that appeared quite a few years ago and seems to have become a permanent fixture is “hopefully”. It still doesn’t make good sense to me, except as a synonym for wistfully.

    “At the end of the day” stuck around. It is annoying, but anyone old enough to remember “when all is said and done” may have welcomed an alternative phrase.

  21. Letters writers have been the worst culprits up till now for starting of their letters-to-the-editor. (Have a look, and do a count.)

    Not me, but.

    So, there we have it.

  22. 22

    Ekshully drives me crazy too, but another one that grates is people talking about a large “amount” of people instead of number. And the other one “out of” New Zealand instead of “from”!

  23. ‘So’ aat the beginning of a letter to the editor generally indicates smug disagreement with a previous correspondent. ‘Soooo! Wasn’t that a really stupid thing you said. I’m much smarter than you and here’s my zinger of a reply.’

  24. Some of my pet hates:

    “So, you can be rest assured that Kim and myself will project manage the job to your satisfaction, going forward.”

    “To be honest….”

    “We haven’t ruled it out” (meaning “we’ll put that to the next focus group”).

    @ Marcus: “Also irritated by ‘Hey”, instead of “Hi”.”

    “Hej!” is a common greeting in Sweden. Maybe it is more common in Europe than the American “Hi”? To be honest, I’m just guessing…

  25. So hot right now!

  26. @ JC and @ Ben

    thank you very much for this, and the link… very interesting.

    I subscribe to the idea that it is used primarily to imply that the speaker is a source of continuous source of information on whatever the topic is. (used as a conjunct linking the comment that follows with the implied expert knowledge of the speaker).

  27. Another word that is often redundant is “today” as in “Would you like to see the wine list today?” (I’d love to answer: No thanks, please show it to me tomorrow) or “How are you today?”.

  28. One or two to remember, that is.