Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sew, A Needle Pulling Thread (Actually ..... the Other "SO")

On June 18, 2010, I shared a link to this article on Facebook, along with my comment:
Sit through a few IT-related procurements and you'll hear many iterations of "so" as the intro to a sentence.
Like author Jane Jeong Trenka, I am constantly engaged in what she calls "the subversive act of noticing things."  It's not really subversive, I suppose, but that phrase really stands out to me.  "Noticing things" that are occurring somewhat under the surface of routine daily discourse provides a feast of amusements to toss around mentally.

That is what gets me to so.

Several years ago, I was part of an interview team for a Third Party Administrator (TPA) for Healthy Kids.  A portion of each presentation was fairly technical, since the TPA has responsibility for designing and maintaining the computer system that tracks enrollment, billing, eligibility, and other functions of our program.  I started noticing the use of "so" as the beginning of a sentence.  Sometimes it sort of made sense, such as:

Q: How will you handle the fact that our program's premiums are based on household size and gross monthly income?
A: So, you have to factor in the household size and gross monthly income.

Other times, not so much:

Q: How was your flight?
A: So, we encountered turbulence on the flight, and otherwise it was good.

HUH?

There have been other procurements over the years, and in addition to those procurements, I have noticed this usage of "so" as the first word of a sentence in other arenas as well.

Why does it matter, and when does it matter?

My friend Barbara logically asked, "Why do do you have to stop using it? It seems a perfectly good word..."

She is right.  I know several people who use it as a normal part of their speech.  These are people I care deeply about, who could probably choose several things about my word choices and speech patterns to nitpick about. 

It bothers me when it is delivered by a professional individual, who is representing a purportedly savvy, national or international corporation, who relies on it as a crutch.  It doesn't help them. 

At a recent set of marathon meetings where another set of potential vendors were presenting to us, I counted the "so's" in one hour coming out of the lead presenter, who was extremely professional and well -spoken in every other way (remember, I don't have the Altoids to keep me occupied anymore!):



Among the individual's team, there were 13 additional "so's" in the hour.  That's  a lot of
"so" ing!

Most of the theories around the migration of "so" from mid sentence to its new role as the introductory word have to do with computer programmers in Silicon Valley in the late 90's.  In fact, author Michael Lewis writes that Microsoft employees "have long argued that the 'so' boom began with them."

I don't know -- what I do know is that the use of "so" as an intro word was sort of an amusement when it was coming from an IT person trying to explain why GUI is not something that needs to be cleaned up but will help me understand information more easily.  Now that it has made the leap to other business situations, however, it detracts from the information the speaker is trying to convey.

If you are interested in other articles and blogs about the phenomenon, here are some links:


benjaminm's blog, in which the author muses, "You can tell that John and I aren't from Microsoft since we don't use 'so' enough when starting our sentences."


Blog du Tristank

and

The Celestial Monochord, which has a cute picture of Ira Flatow interviewing penguins (don't think they're in on the "so" phenom), but the article discusses the ubiquitous presence of "so" at the beginning of a whole lot of sentences on NPR interviews.

Those are my thoughts on the topic......hope you consider them more than "so so."















3 comments:

Leadership Freak said...

You are making me smile! I'm temped to begin a sentence with "so" but I'm concerned that you might go postal. :-)

I regularly present and hadn't thought about the "so" problem. Now I have something else to be paranoid about. :-)

Your writing style drew me through your post.

Thanks,

Leadership Freak

Dan Rockwell

Velva said...

It never occurred to me that professional folks overuse the word "so' in their conversations or presentations. I will need to pay more attention to myself and other professionals. Interesting.

Karen Thurston Chavez said...

I'm so glad to know that I am not the only person out there keeping tally marks on the number of times someone says a certain word! I sat in a meeting once and counted the number of times the meeting leader used the phrase "you know." It was an hour-long meeting, I think, and he used the phrase "you know" 87 times. Eight. tee. seven. I forget how many times he (incorrectly) used the word "like."

So, you know, like, thanks for this post!

KTC