Saturday, February 27, 2016

So where was I?

I was still five, on my first day of school, when one of the St. Michael’s nuns inadvertently gave my sense of self-worth, or whatever it was called in the ’60s, a good, hearty spin. Nervous as I was, I could at least take comfort that my new classmates hadn’t been here before either, since the school had no kindergarten. Then Sister spoke to a boy standing among us in the schoolyard. “Tom, show the others how to line up in the auditorium…like you did last year.”

Like he did last year?

My parents, I was distraught to conclude, should not have sent me last year to kindergarten at the nearby public school. I was supposed to have been here at St. Michael’s, lining up again and again in the auditorium like Tom. On Day One of eight years at this school, I was already in the dark.

It’s because of this early memory—that feeling of being denied prior knowledge—that today I feel unsettled to hear a certain word at the beginning of a sentence. The word is “So.”

Of course, starting a sentence with “So” could make perfect sense, such as when two friends meet after some time apart: “So what’s up with you these days?”

I also find it useful in my shrugging response to a co-worker’s question of why I have mounted someone onto a meat hook I just happened to find in the copier room: “So he can’t get down.”

Otherwise, it has grown into the 21st century’s de rigueur verbal tic, what many of us innocently say instead of “Ummmm” or “Wellll….”

As with those fillers, hearing an occasional “so” at the beginning of a sentence is no big deal. But in rabid use, when nothing prior has occurred to justify the use of the word, it can be exasperating. Take when I first noticed its practice, during a brief interview with a young guy at the iRobot booth of one recent Consumer Electronics Show. He was demonstrating a robotic vacuum that could be used as a hands-free wet mop for bare floors.

“Is the product available now?” I asked.

“So you can buy it starting today.”

“Is $600 its price in stores?”

“So it will cost $600.”

“Does that price include any of the cleaning solution?”

“So you get a bottle with the product.”

My first impulse, always my most genuine, was to grab him by the lapel and smack his face back and forth a few times. “What’s the word?” I’d demand.


Smack smack smack. “What’s the word?” Watching gangster movies, you see, costs far less than journalism-school tuition—and is much more rewarding.


For some reason, they didn’t send me back to CES this year.

By this point, I’m convinced that many people inappropriately start sentences that way for the sheer pleasure of it, a way of throwing others off and giving the false impression that they, too, were lining up in the St. Michael’s auditorium while the rest of us were wetting their pants in kindergarten. And for those people, it’s time for a little quid pro quo, to quote a movie character who would never unjustifiably start a sentence with “So,” making him okay in my book.

I propose, in fact, that everyone who’s incensed by this practice join with me in throwing these villains similarly off guard. Let’s say your waiter, postal clerk or returns-counter staffer greets you with words preceded by an incongruous “so”—something along the lines of “So I’m Quincy, and I’m your server.”

• “Consequently, I’ll have the tripe parmegian.”

• “Therefore, I would like to mail this anthrax Priority Mail with Return Receipt.”

• “On the other hand, I have to return this cobra.”

I myself have resolved this moment never to begin a sentence in an unsettling way, and there’s one way to break this habit. Are you with me? I’ll tell you how…um, as soon as I ask Tom.


  1. Ed, this has bugged me to the point I will turn off the program when I hear too many "So..."'s (is that the correct plural form?) Followed closely by people (sometimes a GROUP of people) talking over each other too much as they forget there's an audience supposedly listening, or trying to listen.

    So, what can we do about all of this? Besides your admittedly funny so-called so-lution which could never so-lely so-lve the problem? Here's what I propose: First, round up all the so-ers and lock them up. Even strap them down. Torture them in various ways (for instance say to them, "Ha Ha! You're NEVER going to get that cool gig on Meet The Press!" or "We can tell you're usually full of shit and just stalling.") and when they complain piteously just reply, "So?". Over and over again until they come to hate the word as much as we do. Well actually, for us maybe, used in this manner in this type of situation, "so" could become ok again. :)

    1. Haha, Mike, you've gotten this matter even more so-n up! We can hire some police from the So. Bronx or So. Jamaica to round them up. Though (sigh) I suppose that would violate their personal so-vereignty.

  2. I have also heard "so"used many times, on TV, I think.
    When someone asks a [technical] question, the responder will begin his response by saying "so ."
    Yes it is annoying!

    1. Thanks, Patty! I'm sure the use of "so" hasn't peaked, either! Though I can't help but wonder which affectation is next.

  3. Soooooooo...if you could stop saying "soooooo"...that'd be great. ;)

    1. Next comes "la," the note that follows "sooooooo"....

  4. the next affectation? A small sound-making device that is programmable (upload your favorite celebrity voices or musical instruments for fanfares) and it's placed on the table next to the tourettes-afflicted "so-er" by said "so-er". Imagine the variety of appropriate sounds (well, maybe not *always* appropriate...) available to preface or punctuate anything the "so-er" feels compelled to utter! Ed, write an app or contact Mattel. You're welcome. :)

  5. Uh oh, the secret is out! I just have to start liking a celebrity! Though a good riff from your bass will more than suffice....

  6. How about those Geniuses who for some reason have to begin their first expressed thought with "In other words..." or "What I mean is..." ? They haven't SAID anything yet, but they're already putting it in other words or clarifying the thought!!!

  7. How about those Geniuses who for some reason have to begin their first expressed thought with "In other words..." or "What I mean is..." ? They haven't SAID anything yet, but they're already putting it in other words or clarifying the thought!!!