(This is a rewrite of a post I did several years ago. I had to update it because I hear more and more people doing this and it’s maddening.)
Somewhere along the line, while we weren’t looking, they changed language.
We see the obvious culprits, the people who have ripped apart words and sentences and maybe even basic communication itself by doing nothing but text or post on social media all day long (because they would rather use their phone for any other purpose than to actually talk to someone), completely forgetting about capitalization or basic punctuation, reducing everything to an LOL, a BRB, a “U” instead of you, a “K” instead of OK (because it’s too much trouble to type those extra letters), tortured abbreviations, and maybe a 🙂 . We’ve seen the word “the” taken away from us. Suddenly everyone is saying “prom” instead of “the prom” and “hospital” instead of “going to the hospital,” like we’ve all suddenly become British. We’re “adulting” and “journaling” now. “Efforting” is acceptable. “Dude” not only refers to a man or a woman but it’s also a general term of disbelief or wonder, a whole sentence in one word (by the way, don’t call women “dude”). And “I can’t even” is considered witty and clever, mostly by people who regularly take those quizzes at BuzzFeed that tell you which Harry Potter character you are based on your favorite salad toppings.
The most bizarre language habit of all? Using the word “so” to start a sentence. It can be fine if used correctly, but not when you’re simply answering someone’s question.
Some quick examples:
Interviewer: “Where were you born?”
Man: “So I was born in New Jersey…”
Interviewer: “Tell us about your new app.”
Woman: “So what this app does is…”
Interviewer: “Do you like pumpkin pie?”
Man: “So the first time I had pumpkin pie…”
Was there anyone who was the subject of an interview before 2005 who answered questions like this? No. When people were asked “What do you do for a living?” the answer would have been “I’m a cook and I work at this great restaurant…,” not “So I’m a cook and I work at this great restaurant…” It’s really the weirdest thing. It’s happening all the time now. You might not even hear it at first but once you do, it becomes very noticeable. It’s a verbal tic, a speaking crutch that many tech and business people have adopted, most in their 20s and 30s (I first noticed it in a mainstream way during an interview with Mark Zuckerberg years ago) but increasingly older people are using it too (and older people should know better). I hear politicians using it. News anchors use it. I’ve seen many Jeopardy! contestants use it during the segment where Alex Trebek talks to them and for the rest of the game I’m rooting against them.
Would you say “so” at the start of an answer if you were writing it down instead of saying it aloud?
Maybe it’s not even a verbal tic. Maybe it’s the way many people think they’re supposed to speak now. I’d like to think that we’ve moved on from saying “um” at the start of a sentence, that replacing “um” with an actual word is a good sign, but this is a giant leap backward for mankind. It’s like putting walnuts in brownies. It makes no sense.
Communication is weird now. If we’re not starting sentences with the word “so,” we’re keeping our phones next to us while we eat dinner, getting irritated if people use periods when they text, thinking that leaving a voicemail is suddenly the worst thing we could do to a person, or we have the opinion that people are wasting our time when they say “thank you” (which is a cruddy, deranged point of view). People think these changes are a sign of “progress,” and we should all change with the times. Language evolves, after all, and if more and more people use words in a certain way, the more it gets cemented in the culture (like, consider the word “like”). If technology makes us change the way we interact with people, then so be it. The years go by and it all becomes the norm, and you look like you’re not only out of touch but actually wrong. The train has left Progress Station and you should be on board if you don’t want to get left behind.
If this is progress then I’m getting off at the next stop.