So . . .
posted by Lawrence Cunningham
Last week, Dave Hoffman posted about omitting needless words in exposition. In comments, I satirized his point, leading off with “So, . . .” and included dozens of other habitually-used words or phrases likewise lacking meaning.
My nudge reacted against an idiomatic fashion to begin sentences with “So,” in speech and writing, especially on blogs (including by esteemed contributors to this one). Aside from proponents of expressive clarity considering so a useless word when beginning a sentence, it may be improper English.
Exceptions recognize utility in narrow contexts, such as for poetry (“So lovely was the lavender lilac”), impression (“So these colonies stood strong”) or in rousing speeches (“So I say to my family and friends”) and in the familiar “So what?”
Current usage expands well beyond the exceptions. The word begins sentences like: “So, I read yesterday;” “So an interesting thread appears over at . . .;” and “So, the Supreme Court has decided . . . .” (No convention seems to have formed about whether a comma follows the word when it starts a sentence.)
Shall law professors or other academics encourage students to begin sentences with “So” in class discussion and research papers? Do lawyers or judges appreciate that lead off? Is it appealing to readers of the English language in general? I doubt it.
I am convinced it is not good for professors to follow the idiomatic fashion. A few years ago, my law school interviewed an entry-level candidate who began sentences with “So” often. Many colleagues cited the annoyance as a negative. They tried to suppress the habit’s significance when evaluating the overall record, recognizing the idiomatic fashion, but it hurt the candidate. We did not extend an offer.
I cannot recall ever writing a sentence beginning with the word So in this usage, and hope I never do. I confess to using it in conversation on too many occasions, capitulating to fashion, yet wish I had not and hope to cut back. It would help if everyone else cut it out too.