Posted by: Jack Henry | February 5, 2019

Editor’s Corner: So

Dear Editrix,

At the end of a thought, after an implied comma or period, sometimes the word “so” pops up with only a pause following.

In some cases, it’s clear that the listener should complete the thought mentally. In others it seems to be just a way to “pass the baton” of conversation.

Does that have a name and definition?

Interested in Allen

Dear Interested,

My first thought about this was that you must be eavesdropping on our Toastmaster meetings, where “so” used in this way is a clickable offense. I know I am guilty of filling sentence transitions with it, and that it is actually a conjunction. Other than that, I didn’t have much to offer. Then, you supplied me with a very interesting link on this topic. (For those of you who want the full discussion, see The Atlantic article here.)

I found this excerpt interesting:

I’ve heard this end-of-sentence “so” called a “dangling so” and a “trailing so,” but Geoffrey Raymond, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who studies conversation, calls it a “turn-final so.” In conversation, we take turns speaking. A turn can be as short as one word—“Okay”—or many sentences long. And while the word “so” would usually indicate some more words to follow, a turn-final so comes at the end of a turn, when someone’s done talking.

The way “so” is being used in these instances is as a discourse marker—a word that doesn’t add explicit meaning to what you’re saying, but can mark your place in a sentence. “Well” and “oh” are other examples of discourse markers. A “so” at the beginning of a sentence is a discourse marker too—à la “So, I said to him …”

Because the word’s traditional function is to connect two clauses or ideas, when you hear a “so,” you expect something to follow—an upshot or a conclusion of some kind. Thus a “so” followed by a period, or an ellipses as the case may be, indicates that there is an upshot being implied there. It’s just not being spoken aloud. This is a conspiratorial thing to do—indicating to the people you’re talking to that they know what you mean.

I think that explains what you are talking about (though I prefer “dangling so” to “turn-final”). Many of us have heard “so” thrown out at the end of sentence where we are supposed to fill in the blank. But just because people use it this way, does not mean it’s proper. It’s a conjunction (like and, or, nor, and yet) and should be used as such. As Jean-Luc Picard says, “Make it so.”

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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