Is This Usage Of So Actually New?
In case you’re wondering whether the annoying kind of so at the beginning of a sentence is new, it’s hard to say for sure. Giridharadas writes that the origins of using the word so to start sentences are widely believed to have begun in Silicon Valley, among computer programmers, yet he also cites an example written by Chaucer hundreds of years ago. Further, linguist Mark Liberman shows extensive data that those who believe that this is a new phenomenon are actually being fooled by the “recency illusion.” His usage graphs show little change in the rate of sentence-initial so in more than one hundred years.
In conclusion, the use of so to start a sentence or a question reply strikes some people as odd, and sometimes carries negative connotations, but people use it in spontaneous speech all the time, making it likely to slowly gain acceptance as people hear it more. There is no logical reason to avoid starting sentences with so, but it is good to know that, stylistically, some formal writers or public speakers may advise against it. Anyone concerned about it can easily avoid it when producing edited writing. For example, it did not appear once in this entire article!
Syelle Graves is a linguist and professor at the City University of New York at LaGuardia Community College. http://syellegraves.ws.gc.cuny.edu/
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