THE LINGERING ‘SO’

I’m what you would call a stickler.  (If any of you have read Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves, you know what I’m talking about.)  I have an obsession with grammar, with good writing, with thoughtful speech.  As I move through the world, I wield a merciless (imaginary) red pen with which I grade the running commentary that assaults me from strangers’ mouths, billboard ads, radio announcements, store signs; you know, the everyday attempts at communication that scream out for editorial attention.

Of the many peeve-inducing things that people say and write, none gets under my skin as much as the lingering ‘so,’ that verbal and tonal trailing off at the end of too many sentences.

“She called me to tell me how much she hated my use of commas in the recent blog post, so…”

“The seamstress who hems things perfectly is in a desirable location, so…”

“I can’t bear to read another story about the Euro-zone crisis, so…”

It’s usually accompanied by a slight shrug of the shoulders, a tilt of the head, a raising of an eyebrow, this ‘so.’  And it just sits there doing nothing at the end of the sentence, inviting the listener’s imagination to go wild with speculation.  She hated your use of commas so… she tried to murder you?  The seamstress’s location is desirable so… she’s been hospitalized for over-exertion?  You hate reading about the Euro-zone crisis so… you burned effigies of European leaders in front of the Economist’s headquarters?  Really, the possibilities are endless.

Which is why sentences don’t end in ‘so.’  ‘So…’ what?  What is it that happens after the ‘so’?  And why aren’t you telling us?  It’s the verbal equivalent of running eighty yards with a football (the American kind) and then stopping an inch before the end zone.

The lingering ‘so’ is bad manners.  It should be fined for loitering and ordered to do community service.  It should be hunted down and handed an ASBO.  Now, I know none of you use the lingering ‘so’ when you speak, but you probably know people who do, so…

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