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The "So" meme - Comments

Michael Austin's Avatar Comment 1 by Michael Austin

I'm America, many teenagers say "He was like" instead of "He said." This seems to be pretty new, I've only noticed it in the last 5 or so years.

Sat, 03 Mar 2012 23:34:51 UTC | #924189

HardNosedSkeptic's Avatar Comment 2 by HardNosedSkeptic

Richard,

There was an article about this meme by Anand Giridharadas a couple of years ago. He says that it seemed to appear in Silicon Valley in around 1999 or with Microsoft employees. There are numerous comments following the article, some with links.

I hope you find this useful.

Sat, 03 Mar 2012 23:46:07 UTC | #924193

Tiende Landeplage's Avatar Comment 3 by Tiende Landeplage

With the qualifier that English is not my first language and I may be "talking out of my hat", I wonder if beginning a sentence with "So" is an old staple of Jewish-American dialect. Example: dialogue from the film "Stalag 17" (1953):

"Hey, this is with a typewriter... it's from a finance company." "So it's from the finance company. So, it's better than no letter at all. So they want the third payment on the Plymouth. So they want the fourth... the fifth... the sixth... the seventh. So they want the Plymouth."

Isn't it also an old way for storytellers and stand-up comedians to begin a story or joke:

"So I was reading the other day about the new bill..."

"So there was this man who was married to this incredibly beautiful woman, but..."

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 00:08:18 UTC | #924198

mirandaceleste's Avatar Comment 4 by mirandaceleste

In 2010, Language Log did a thorough and quite fascinating post about this phenomenon: languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2570. They traced its history by using The Corpus of Historical American English, which is a really useful tool for quantitative research on the evolution of language.

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 00:11:29 UTC | #924200

Anaximander's Avatar Comment 5 by Anaximander

So who invented the "___" meme? Or should I say, "invented"?

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 00:12:09 UTC | #924201

Jumped Up Chimpanzee's Avatar Comment 6 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee

I really hate it when "so" is used in the title for a newspaper article. You see this all the time now.

Such as:

"So Why Did Lady Gaga Wear That Dress?"

The implication is that it's a topic everyone is talking about. I find it incredibly patronising, as I'm not 12 years old and couldn't give a flying toss.

So why do newspaper editors think it is such a clever way to headline their articles?

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 00:19:53 UTC | #924204

JHJEFFERY's Avatar Comment 7 by JHJEFFERY

I remember reading, years ago, that someone, perhaps a linguist, had studied "so" and found it used much more by females than males. I have no idea why that would be, or why it would be important to know, or even why I bothered to write about it. So I will go now.

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 00:22:40 UTC | #924206

Mee Peestevone's Avatar Comment 8 by Mee Peestevone

I've noticed it in the last ten years or so even in Australia, Canada, England, and the U.S. It drives me crazy.

Comment 1 by Michael Austin :

I'm America, many teenagers say "He was like" instead of "He said." This seems to be pretty new, I've only noticed it in the last 5 or so years.

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 00:27:31 UTC | #924209

Tiende Landeplage's Avatar Comment 9 by Tiende Landeplage

Comment 8 by Mee Peestevone I've noticed it in the last ten years or so even in Australia, Canada, England, and the U.S. It drives me crazy.

Comment 1 by Michael Austin :

I'm America, many teenagers say "He was like" instead of "He said." This seems to be pretty new, I've only noticed it in the last 5 or so years.

The equivalent trend in Norwegian and Swedish is substituting the word bare/bara (meaning "only" or "just") for "said":

She just "What do you think you're doing?" and I just "What do you mean...?"

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 00:39:56 UTC | #924210

DrDroid's Avatar Comment 10 by DrDroid

The word "like" appears everywhere in the sentences uttered by teenage girls these days, at least in the USA. I'm not sure how the fad got started or what it's intended to convey. It's almost like (no pun intended) the girl is broadcasting "like me" messages into your subconcious.

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 00:45:35 UTC | #924211

hitchens_jnr's Avatar Comment 11 by hitchens_jnr

I only noticed "so" at the start of a story relatively recently, a couple of months ago when I was in America. Is it catching on over here (UK) too?

(p.s. Richard - are you aware of what's happening to your "meme" concept on the internet? The funny pictures like "Socially Awkward Penguin", "First World Problems" etc, with user-generated captions applying to specific circumstances? There's a farily good explanation of it here. It seems to have become a really big thing over the last month or so - an interesting new mutation of the "meme" meme!)

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 00:48:44 UTC | #924214

Dhamma's Avatar Comment 12 by Dhamma

I wouldn't say it's completely unnecessary. Much like "hello", "howdy", and "yo" may be synonymous, they're hardly completely interchangeable, and therefore serve different purposes.

"So..." adds a less formal tone. Whether one approves of it, or not; it serves a purpose.

Far worse in my ears has always been the overuse of "y' know".

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 00:58:43 UTC | #924215

InYourFaceNewYorker's Avatar Comment 13 by InYourFaceNewYorker

@Michael Austin, it's been around for decades.

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 01:04:43 UTC | #924216

green and dying's Avatar Comment 14 by green and dying

One way you could trace this kind of thing is to do a search of something like YouTube comments and look at the dates when a phrase starts to be used. It doesn't really work with 'so', obviously, because it's one word that can be used in other contexts to the one you want, and also I don't think people really write anecdotes in YouTube comments, but it would work with a phrase or a new word.

I did this with a word that I remembered was a very popular slang word through my teenage years that changed meaning several times in the space of about 4 years. It went through a phase of being derogatory, then it was used only in a reclaimed ironic way, and then it changed again slightly, then it went out of use. I wondered whether it had been just my school where this word was widely used and whether the same changes in meaning had taken place everywhere (in England, anyway) and from doing Google searches of YouTube comments I found that it wasn't just my school and that the meanings were the same. I think things like YouTube and MySpace, which were the main sites that came up when doing a general Google search, were the main reason it could spread and change meaning so quickly.

Comment 1 by Michael Austin :

I'm America, many teenagers say "He was like" instead of "He said." This seems to be pretty new, I've only noticed it in the last 5 or so years.

It's not just America! I don't mind this at all but what I do mind is sentences with 'like' every other word as punctuation.

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 01:07:21 UTC | #924218

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 15 by QuestioningKat

So I know I say and write "so" all the time. So now I'm wondering....

I know!

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 01:14:23 UTC | #924220

ShinobiYaka's Avatar Comment 16 by ShinobiYaka

Not sure “So” is actually a meme it’s more a grammatical device, it’s not in the same class as "um" or "er" if expressed in writing, but it has “evolved” and I’ll use another example to make my point, Spurious is an interesting word it has several contemporary meanings, one of which is in biology, but its origins lay with roman military law, legionaries were not allowed to marry, any children produced by legionaries were wards of the roman state, they were acknowledged as SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus), this later became spurious offspring (bastard) in the middle ages, which is now used to mean anything from random event to counterfeit depending on context.

So, originates from the Hebrew and later Greek and Latin for “amen” its original use would have been “so, I will go to the next town” (god willing), today it has a different connotation, it is used to highlight something or someone questionable as in “yeah, that’s what his so called friends thought”, or it might be used to introduce a new phrase or concept as in “so-called 'super bug'”. When it is used in “so, let’s look at the next power point slide”, it amounts to little more than punctuation, a place holder or pause, its habit more than meme I think, if it were not “so” it may well be “erm”, “er”, “OK” or “right”, does that makes sense?

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 01:16:08 UTC | #924221

CdnMacAtheist's Avatar Comment 17 by CdnMacAtheist

Yo, this is so, like, y'know, kinda, one of them memes where we reap what we so .... whatever, eh !!!

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 01:25:50 UTC | #924225

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 18 by AtheistEgbert

I think the usage of "so" in that context is to mean something like "And then/therefore" and to indicate jumping back into a story from an earlier aside.

So I don't really see this as a problem....especially if Shakespeare is happy to start a sentence with "So".

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 01:49:30 UTC | #924229

xmaseveeve's Avatar Comment 19 by xmaseveeve

In the great scheme of infectious verbal ticks, I quite like 'so'. It is a dramatic device which also establishes a conversational tone. Most narratives do not require an instant external response. (I don't like too much repetition, right enough.) 'So' really means, 'I'm about to tell you something and then I want to know what you think.'

'At the end of the day' is the worst. 'As far as I'm concerned' - what does that add? It's only a way of holding the floor while you think of what to say next. I suspect that 'Peace be upon him' is often used for the same purpose.

Prefarbricated phrases mean prefabricated thoughts. Your whole vocabulary could be linguistic stop-gaps with a few baffling words thrown in. A Tory Party Conference?...

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 01:51:41 UTC | #924232

xmaseveeve's Avatar Comment 20 by xmaseveeve

Sorry - Jim Beam was in my hot chocolate - I forgot to say to anyone who is interested in memes, and has not yet read 'Cloud Atlas' - seriously, read it. It is a masterpiece. David Mitchell. (I never understand all the science and maths but I love his work.) I tell you this as a gift.

Something very dramatic happens to language but I hate spoilers, so won't give it away. It's a huge, philosophical, even metaphysical science fiction novel, but you will be so emotionally involved that it's an easy read!

I did cry, though mostly because I wish I could write like that guy does! Up there with Shakespeare (in this novel) breathtaking! There wasn't a flat hair at the back of my neck at the end. Goodnight, Princes of New England!

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 02:03:13 UTC | #924235

Helga Vieirch's Avatar Comment 21 by Helga Vieirch

Recent text messages I happened to see, on a teenagers phone:
Person A: Hey Person B: Dude. "S'up? Person A. BS. S'up wif U? Person B: BS? WTF?

I think our linguistic evolution has entered a new phase. Translation: "So" is, like, so last year.

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 02:08:26 UTC | #924237

DocWebster's Avatar Comment 22 by DocWebster

Comment 8 by Mee Peestevone :

I've noticed it in the last ten years or so even in Australia, Canada, England, and the U.S. It drives me crazy.

Comment 1 by Michael Austin :

I'm America, many teenagers say "He was like" instead of "He said." This seems to be pretty new, I've only noticed it in the last 5 or so years.

I hate to put a damper on the flush of discovery here but I was hearing it in backwoodest Oregon in the 70's and it was old hat then.

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 02:09:16 UTC | #924238

DocWebster's Avatar Comment 23 by DocWebster

Old Hat, now there's a meme with some miles on it

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 02:10:44 UTC | #924239

xmaseveeve's Avatar Comment 24 by xmaseveeve

I also forgot to mention the Irish 'so' at the end of a sentence. I think that means 'Just so', as in 'I'm sure you agree', and it's shorthand for the end of sentence 'so I do' or 'so he did'. Amos? Syntax and oral grammatical creativity can be very expressive.

In Glasgow, 'but' is used at the end of a sentence, if someone is disagreeing with you. It commands more attention by disarming the other person before you say you disagree. They listen before they start composing a reply.

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 02:16:35 UTC | #924240

NakedCelt's Avatar Comment 25 by NakedCelt

Comment 1 by Michael Austin :

I'm America, many teenagers say "He was like" instead of "He said." This seems to be pretty new, I've only noticed it in the last 5 or so years.

I doubt it. No offence, but how old are you? Because my generation have been saying "He was like" since at least the early '90s, and I'm pretty sure we got it from America.

And it's not exactly equivalent to "He said". "I said" (mind if I switch pronouns?) begins a report of my actual words; "I was like" means that I am about to summarize the intent behind what I said and did next. Even if I didn't actually say anything. "So I spotted this big threatening guy looking in my direction, and I was like 'I'd better get out of here'..." may be an accurate report, even if I in fact said nothing and simply backed quickly away into the surrounding crowd.

Comment 10 by DrDroid :

The word "like" appears everywhere in the sentences uttered by teenage girls these days, at least in the USA. I'm not sure how the fad got started or what it's intended to convey. It's almost like (no pun intended) the girl is broadcasting "like me" messages into your subconcious.

"Like" as a sentence adverb has been around since at least the 1960s, when it arose in hippie culture. Along with the habit of addressing everyone as "man" it was most often used as a symbol of the many things non-hippies didn't understand, or were more interested in laughing at than understanding, about hippies. It is certainly not functionless -- no linguistic feature is -- but it is hard to analyse, I'll grant you that.

Most often, I think, "like" signals inexactitude in the clause that follows it -- "This is like what happened, as seen from my point of view, rather than an impartial, objective, or strictly accurate report."

As for "So..." introducing a topic, I know I've done this myself quite a bit, and I'm trying now to think why. I meant to convey something by it, something that would not have been conveyed had it been missing, but I'm finding it nigh impossible to articulate what that something was. It does (to me) seem to create a certain immediacy -- as if I'm dropping the reader right in the story, rather than leading them in with introductions. But I don't think that expresses it very well.

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 07:35:55 UTC | #924255

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 26 by Jos Gibbons

It appears the useful insights in comments 2-4 led us all to run out of anything to say on the OT, which has allowed this thread to do more. If we're going to talk about other, annoying memes, what's with the use of "lol" at the beginning and/or end of every sentence in instant and SMS messaging, when it's clear the writer isn't amused by anything? It's short for "laughing out loud"; it's not punctuation. You'd think a set of conventions stereotyped as being designed to save on characters would leave the full stop alone; it's as short as it'll get!

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 07:54:11 UTC | #924256

RDfan's Avatar Comment 27 by RDfan

According to UrbanDictionary.com:

START --

So:

  1. Used in an argument when someone has made a good point and the other person doesn't know what to say.

  2. Used before a sentence when someone is not sure what to say. Usually repeated by another person.

  3. Used by teenage girls and gay men in the middle of a sentence to emphasize a the point. See like

  4. Used by someone in a conversation if it doesn't matter.

  5. Used by someone in a conversation if they don't care.

example1: Man 1: But you're a dick! Man 2: So?

ex2. Girl: So...Man: So...Girl: Wanna go to the cinema?

ex3. Gay: That is like so good.

ex4. Man: But it's raining outside! Girl: So?

ex5. Man: I have a big willy. Girl: So?

So:

adj. 1. used to add extra emphasis to a statement that would otherwise describe the exact same thing.

"We're so gonna go to Wal-Mart!"

"She so deserved that award!"

END.

I've found myself using "so" at the beginning of sentences in the last year or two (2011-2012) and I'm pretty sure I got this habit from American friends.

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 08:07:45 UTC | #924257

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 28 by Richard Dawkins

Thank you, I must say I wasn't expecting this thread to turn out quite so fruitful. The scholarly discussions of the phenomenon recommended by Hardnosedskeptic and mirandaceleste are fascinating. And I'd completely forgotten the equally widespread "so" as emphatic adverb: "I am SOOOO going to tweet that". Or the weird negative version: "I am SOOOO not going to the Olympics".

Whenever I'm tempted to deplore such linguistic innovations, I remember Steven Pinker's homily on the fascination of language evolution and his witty admonition to himself after enunciating one of his own pet peeves: "Chill out, Professor". Many, perhaps all, of our older and accepted idioms and figures of speech started in just such ways, perhaps as youthspeak.

Richard

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 08:40:52 UTC | #924261

RDfan's Avatar Comment 29 by RDfan

According to a recent New York Times article, women are way ahead of the liguistic curve and may be responsible for innovations in words such as "like" and, perhaps, "so" too.

Like RD, Pinker raised my consciousness when it comes to being a language Nazi.

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 09:37:46 UTC | #924266

Richard Dawkins's Avatar 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