Reading Chronicles

  II. So and So

 o, I was listening to an interview on NPR's Fresh Air program. Terry Gross was talking with the author of some brand new sociological book, an academic type, and after each question he began his reply with the word "So"

Terry G: Your new book, Pigeon Toe elaborates on the many great political leaders through history who have suffered from pigeon-toe. What got you interested in this subject?
Young Academic: So, when I was young, sadly I walked in a very pronounced pigeon-toed manner...

You may say, So, So what!. OK, I realize it's trivial, though to me it is a source of irritation. I've noticed that, not just on Fresh Air, but on many interview programs (PBS News Hour, Charlie Rose, Tavis Smiley, The New York Times Book Review podcast) that feature younger academics, usually people who have just written important non-fiction books, this use of the word "So" as a preface to each of their answers, seems to be a disturbing new meme. Never mind the fact that Terry Gross may overuse the So word when asking her questions, it's their initial use in the interviewee's answers-- and its growing ubiquity-- that bother me.

Could this disturbing trend have its roots in the hallowed halls of academia where years ago some beloved professor's peculiar tic so pervaded the common speech of the university undergrads that it spread, virus -like, through the intellectual world, with no sign of a cure, finally revealing its odious syllable on my favorite radio and TV programs?
The word "So" has many definitions one of which, "Therefore", is most likely the form it is meant to convey when these speakers begin their answers. Who would begin a sentence with "Therefore"? Words like, So, Therefore, Thus, Hence, and Consequently, are connecting adverbs, they require an initial statement of which to qualify, i.e.: My feet point inward when I walk, so I need to buy corrective shoes.

One may compare this anomaly of speech to the similar use of the word "Look" by politicos in preface to many of their remarks during interviews. If you don't know what I'm talking about, listen to the next airing of Meet the Press. The most notable users of the word "Look" in answer to political questions are: President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Sen John McCain, Chris Matthews, etc... This is another speech meme, probably derived from the persuasive use of the word "Look" so often used in debate, i.e.; Look, If we can't agree, we just might have to shut down the government.

So, in conclusion (here's an example where "So" makes sense at the beginning of a sentence, because it is being used to qualify previously stated arguments), the next time you listen to an NPR interview, pay attention, see if you can detect the "So" word helping the young academic (most older speakers won't dare speak this way) to jump start his or her thoughts or explanations or stories. After you hear it only once, you'll be sure to hear it again and again and so on and so forth.