I was at the Phonetics Congress in Glasgow the other week, and just about every paper began with the word “so”, as did every answer to a question afterwards, regardless of its format. I’ve noticed the same in radio and TV interviews recently. “So” seems to have taken over completely from “Well” as the all-purpose filler while the speaker gathers his/her thoughts.  For example: “What did you have for breakfast?” “So, there was … ” or “Did you enjoy your breakfast?” “So, it was the normal thing – bacon, eggs …”

Has anyone else noticed this increasing tendency?


  1. So, don’t you mean: “So, what did you have for breakfast?” … “So, did you enjoy your breakfast?”

  2. The CBC radio show Quirks and Quarks did a segment on that use of the word “so” back in (I think) 2008. However the CBC website doesn’t provide a link to the podcast anymore, or at least I can’t find it.

    (CBC = Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

  3. Yes, I hear it often these days. As a good descriptive linguist, of course, I just comment on its widespread use. I would never state that it drives me crazy 😉

  4. Jamie – So yes, I suppose I do.

    Paul – I didn’t become aware of its frequency until earlier this year, and the Congress, where hardly anyone that I heard failed to use “So” as the opening word, just confirmed what I’d been hearing on radio and TV up till then. I didn’t want to say that it may have come from the other side of the Atlantic, but if CBC was commenting on it up to ten years ago, then perhaps that’s where it started. Taken from German, perhaps?

    Martin – I wonder if our grandparents felt the same way about “Well, …”

  5. My perception is that in the UK this is pretty much universal among academics and radio talking head types, but hasn’t really gained ground with normal people.

  6. Slate’s Lexicon Valley did a good podcast on this sentence-initial So a couple of years ago.

  7. Stan – Thank you very much for alerting me to Lexicon Valley, which I hadn’t come across before. So, the earliest mention they found was in Michael Lewis’s book from 1999, “The New New Thing”, where he says that any question asked of an IT person will automatically be answered “So, …”. Now I wonder if there are spoken corpora from the late 20th century that would indicate its frequency then. A PhD topic for somebody?

  8. So what were the most exciting contributions? I’d like to learn more about bunched tongue English /r/ turning out to be uvular (Lawson, Scobbie and co).

  9. Sidney – There were two papers given by the Glasgow group including Eleanor Lawson and James Scobbie. I didn’t hear the first, because I had preferred to choose a different session, but during the second, there was no mention of a uvular articulation. I’ve read through both the papers as we were given them, and again, no mention of uvular articulation. Perhaps you should write direct to them for more information.

  10. Thank you Graham. I’d seen their work reviewed elsewhere, second or third hand, with a hint of pharyngealization. Uvular was my own interpretation (uvular articulations form a constriction below the uvula, in the upper pharynx). I understand the ultrasound signal doesn’t pass from tissue out into an airway, so constrictions can’t be seen, only tongue shapes. I certainly intend to write to them, this interests me very much.

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