Thursday, June 16, 2011

So what?

So, what's with so?

It's taken on this new role as impresario of the explanation. I'm hearing it everywhere: conversations, radio interviews...
Someone asks a question, especially one requiring an answer of a few sentences:

How did you get into show business?
How do I get to the Major Deegan Expressway?
Why is the sky blue?
Whereupon the respondent replies:

So I was playing the part of an eggplant in a play about the Food Groups...
So you make a right turn at the light...
So the atmosphere is full of these dust particles...

So, why does this annoy me? I'm not sure. 
Maybe because it presumes something that isn't so. That the answer is part of a  longer narrative, a "blah bah blah; therefore...."which it isn't, so so becomes a kind of affectation. 
Or that the speaker is saying, "Okay, let me break it down for you." or even "Let me dumb it down for you." 
It's hard to pin down, but whatever it is doesn't reside in the entry word "Well," or even "Okay." Well and okay suggest that it's fine you asked, that you were right to ask, that there's an equality between the question and the answer.
So makes the respondent an expert; there's just a hint of "I know more than you; I even know how this question fits into the Big Picture." It tips the scale slightly in favor of the respondent.

I'm probably sounding like a lunatic, or at least a dangerous over-thinker, and I admit this is subtle. But so is one of those words that does more than you think. It's a connector: this causes that. It's an expander: I am so not ready for that test. It has serious attitude as a question: so what? (of course, the time-honored answer is so buttons on your underwear!) or when issuing a challenge: So sue me.

In YIddish it's even more expressive. Nu? So--what do you think? Didn't I tell you? Do I know or do I know? It suggests any number of responses, including no response necessary.

And used declaratively, it is the way things are: So. Cause and effect in one. So it goes. And then there was Roger Angell's peerless palindrome when the Red Sox, one strike away from beating the Mets in the 1986 World Series, let it slip away between Bill Buckner's legs: Not so, Boston.

After all that, using so to introduce an innocent explanation seems harmless. Maybe I just object to using a museum docent as a parking valet. On the other hand, in this economy...

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I'm still thinking about this So business. I came across this bit in the Times this morning. Could Say be So's predecessor? Or is Say more of a Hey?

    From 5 a.m. till midday, Antenna runs old movies that beg for oblivion but have been unaccountably resurrected. Today’s fare, circa 1950, was “The Last of the Buccaneers,” a down-market swashbuckling adventure of Jean Lafitte, starring Paul Henried. Asleep yet? How about Beau Bridges as “The Fifth Musketeer”?

    Two things I love about these movies: first, in the noirish flicks starring some Edward G Robinson clone, the guys always say, “Say.”

    “Saaaaay, what is this?”

    “Saaaaay, where do you think you’re going?”