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← The "So" meme

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Jump to comment 30 by Richard Dawkins

PS to Post 28.

Although I do tell myself to "Chill out, Professor", I must confess to being genuinely sad when our language is impoverished. I lament the loss of "awesome", which I once used (in The Blind Watchmaker) to mean "awesome" but can use no longer because it has degenerated to the point where it means no more than "vaguely approved". When Lalla and I came to read BW aloud for audio disk, we felt obliged to change the word (I can't remember what we changed it to, maybe "awe-inspiring").

I also mourn the relentless passing of our past tense, at least in conversation: "So I'm walking down the street and I meet this man and he's like . . ." I'm sad because English is rich in tenses and tense constructions, they all mean something a bit different and to lose them risks ambiguity or lack of clarity.

In other cases, however, youthspeak enriches language by adding new meaning and reducing ambiguity. I hadn't thought of it before, and I would still consider it undignified for somebody of my age to go around saying "I was like", but Naked Celt is right that "I was like . . ." is subtly different from "I said . . ." It is an economical way of saying "This isn't word-for-word what I said, but it is approximately what I said and it is the meaning I intended".

And there is a genuinely useful version of "So" at the beginning of a sentence which is much favoured in opening a Letter to the Editor (although again I couldn't bring myself to use it): "So X happened. Blah blah blah" is a very economical way of saying "The context in which my letter is to be read is your story that X happened. Blah blah blah."

Richard

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 09:45:41 UTC | #924268