OMG - seriously SO cool

‘So, we have identified these new phenomena which will undoubtedly increase exponentially going forward.’ So says almost any young Turk, being interviewed these days on the Today programme ……….and there you have it: two examples of So used at the beginning of a sentence. The difference is that the first So is a classic example of the new introductory tic. It appears in the mouths of many ‘15-to-40-somethings’ and they use it to start their response to a journalistic question or to any other request for an explanation. What is it doing there? This use of So should indicate that the interviewee is picking up on something stated already; it is, after all, being used as a conjunction. But there is no link. The young person’s response almost never uses So to talk about the ‘result of’ or a ‘consequence of’ what has been said before. I struggle to remember how people would have started an explanatory sentence in previous times. ‘Well, you see it’s like this….’, ‘If I can explain…’, or perhaps just ‘Well…’ I suppose these do now seem rather old-fashioned and fumbling, whereas So is cool, smart and confident and immediately takes charge of the exchange. I learned at school that you should never start a sentence with a conjunction but they have all crept in. ‘But, And & So’ are all used to open a sentence these days and as an editor I find myself letting them go through without much of a backward look. They are a characteristic of what I call ‘smart casual’ language which is used in most guidebooks and history books and is designed to make knowledge more accessible. Guidebooks written 30 years ago had quite a different tone from those of today – more self-consciously lofty, erudite and pedagogic. ‘Smart casual’, by contrast, eschews (!) formality and reaches out with its contractions (didn’t, isn’t, wouldn’t etc) and cheerful opening conjunctions. So, the times they are a-changing.

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