So What?

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A podcast listener named Wes Bellmore writes in to say:

Hi freakguys…

So, you may not be aware of this, but an amazing number of the guests on your podcast begin most of their sentences with the word “SO” when they begin to explain something arcane.

“So, what we found was….”
“So, it’s interesting that…”
“So, when you look at…”

So, I have been listening to globs of your podcasts back-to-back (thanks to Stitcher) and this verbal tic is getting to be like Chinese water torture for me.

So, the CBC radio program Quirks and Quarks did a piece on the “SO” tic a while ago, as someone on that program noticed THEIR guests were saying it all the time. I can’t remember what Q&Q said about it.

So, I love the show, I wish economists ran the world.

So, best regards. Wes

So, the facts are that: Wes is right; I am likely the biggest offender; but I’ve found “so” to be so useful in radio writing that I haven’t been able to stop myself.

Well, maybe there’s an alternative …

Paul Clapham

So, it looks like Wes has a good memory for titles. The Q&Q episode was just over two years ago (March 7, 2009), and here's the link to the CBC web page where you can listen to the podcast of the episode:


As long as "So" is not replaced in frequency by the completely useless and redundant phrase "It is what it is", to the continued use of 'So' I say "so be it".


I've noticed that your guests are also big fans of the "double is", as in "The reason is, is that ..." For some reason this sets my teeth on edge, but I try to ignore it.


This is fantastic. I do public speaking at my work and have been working on my tick(s). Love this and will pass it along.


I have noticed this among academics; it has been driving me crazy! Along with the NPR guest habit of saying "Thank You" in response to the host say "Thank You"....


I work with a woman who has taken to ending--yes, ending!--her sentences with "so." It wouldn't be so bad, but she's a radio host. Needless to say, we edit out that nonsense.


Haha, here in Ireland I hear that a lot! It can mean either nothing at all or "therefore"!

...I'll be off, so.


"So" is the new "um."


This is HIGHLY prevalent in the business/corporate world. I fall victim to it myself. It's like its a preface for "what I'm about to say is really important, brace yourself". Also often accompanied by the afore commented "it is what it is". Though "So..." is much more prevalent. The worst corporate word I hear today is "Ask" as in "...the ask from our stakeholders is..." aka the requirements or the request. I cringe every time I hear "ask".


As a Southerner I have noticed this tic emanating from a fairly specific socioeconomic and geographic segment of the population: mid-Atlantic to Northeastern well-educated (usually politically lefty) intelligentsia. Listen to the next NPR story you hear (particularly a less-formal, human interest type of story) and you will almost always hear it.

It is SO annoying....

Scott W

I dare you to do what my peers and I did when we were 7 years old and someone answered a question with "so?":

Chant at the top of your lungs: "So, so, suck your toe all the way to Mexico. When you're there, cut your hair and stick it down your underwear!"

That should attract a new class of listeners.


So you think you can dance?


My father-in-law pointed out to me a while back that I almost always start my emails with "So..." but I continue to use it. I also use it in verbal communication when starting a conversation or when I'm changing the subject in a conversation. I just feel natural. Also, to Brandt's comment, my department is notorious for using the "ask" word when talking about what our interal partners requires. I never found it annoying....until now!


"So" is the grown-up version of "like"


So... Seed had an article on this in 2008:

Michael Fisk

I know I've had people point out to me my overuse of the phrases "that being said..." and "on the other hand...". Everyone has their own quirks of speech.


So, I heard this interesting statistic once...

The TV show FRIENDS was actually the first place where 'so' gained its popularity. Studies of the show have found that the show's ratings were highest when the use of 'so' was at its greatest, and the ratings were extremely low when 'so' wasn't used as much.

So I guess we can thank Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey, and Phoebe in part for multplying that word in our daily speech.


David Clayton

It's pervasive. I noticed it in my brother, mocked it as only a little brother can do, and now find myself doing the same damned thing.


While I was teaching English abroad, I actually trained my students to start more sentences with "So..." in order to sound more fluent. My British colleagues hated it, and couldn't understand why Americans would talk like that... until they started to doing it themselves. "So" is useful, as a transition between ideas, as an indication that something is worth listening to, and (most importantly) as a moment in which to collect one's thoughts/poise oneself.

I remember in some book I read during childhood--perhaps To Kill a Mockingbird--a lawyer, in order to sound more intelligent and decisive, used the word "now" (as in, "Now, I'm not disagreeing with you, but..." or "Now, this is an interesting point.") in a way similarly to how "so" is used above. Without going back and relistening to the podcasts right now, I have the impression that Dubner's frequent use of "now" as a transition in a non-temporal sense is more notable than his frequent use of "so", which is very, very common in spoken American English. I might be making that up, but I feel like I can clearly hear Dubner starting sentences with "now" more frequently than most people do.

Perhaps you can get some folks from Language Log to guest post on the topic?