Sunday, March 24, 2013


Since when was “so” a catch-all word with which to end sentences?

Unless you’re John Luc Picard issuing orders from the USS Enterprise (“Make it so”) or demonstrating a particularly tricky maneuver (“like so”), it’s a word that ought not to be used as a syntax terminus.

In the above examples, the word “so” means for “thus.” When people generally use so in everyday speech, it trails off, as if the “o” were merely the first dot in an ellipses. The accompanying inflection tends to be questioning (so…?), leaving the sentence open-ended, and thereby demanding a response, or a verbal shrug, welcoming a rejoinder but not exactly asking for one. It sounds like they are desperate to have someone else finish their thought — in a more succinct way
than they themselves can articulate.

The problem is that the people who have hijacked the word “so” as a period have lost the ability to form a complete sentence when they speak. They cannot or will not stop; every utterance needs to be a conversation rather than a statement.

This verbal sloppiness has arisen alongside the increased communication via text-speak, which has become the preferred mode of communication over vocal speech. It used to be that speaking to someone face-to-face or even over the phone meant that cluing your interlocutor in as to when you had finished an utterance was a necessary element in any oration. But texting has made such subtleties of grammar obsolete. No-one uses punctuation when texting – the traditional glyphs have become emoticons, clumsy stand-ins for the non-verbal signs people used to be able to enrich their speech with in order to indicate tone. A smiley face is a friendly elbow jab, rather than a way to say you’re happy. We use acronyms to express strong emotion now, because the phrases they represent have become standard (WTF!).

All this has inevitably left its mark on the average person’s vocabulary and grammar — the bricks and mortar of which communication is built. Ending a sentence that ought to be a statement expressed with confidence that now relies on “so…” suggests uneasiness, equivocation.

Curiously, the word “thus” is also used to sandwich together actions and consequences, like its predecessor, “ergo.” The observant listener will expect something on the other side of it or remain at a loss. Parents are often guilty of commandeering the word “because” as a definitive “no” at times when a simple “no” surpasses a child’s demands. It means “because I said so,” which makes the parent God, the ultimate author of the child’s world. The very fact that the word “because” alone cannot be a sentence signals it out for special attention; it relies on the child to understand the unspoken part (about being the ultimate authority), and therefore to accept it.

Of course, parents can attest to the fact that the useful life of such a tactic is pretty short. The child will continue to challenge the Word, and so they should, for how else will they learn? They figure out far too soon that parents, who are, after all, mere mortals, cannot simply will a thing into being with the result that “it was so.”

We are more than our thoughts. If they were all we had, we would not have gotten very far. Thoughts need a voice, and that voice needs to be clear — not so-so. Like so. 

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