So there. Or, so what?

so 9

So when did it actually take hold. I mean, the business of answering a question by starting the answer with ‘SO’? As on quiz shows, for instance.

What do you do for living, then, Kevin? 


So, ‘Zander, I put the eyes in Cabbage Patch Dolls

Or in news links going live to reporter on the ground:

What’s the reaction of the community this morning?

Significant satellite delay pause.

So, Sophie, temperatures seem to have cooled, but there’s still a significant police presence, as you can see behind me.

When did I become aware of it? When did I become so annoyed by it? Why? Why do I care? (don’t answer that in case you start with “So”). I was perfectly comfortable with certain usages for years and years. Mothers did it when you came home inexcusably late.

So where’ve you been?

Friends said it when you hadn’t seen them for ages.

So how are you doing?

And colleagues, when they’d just pitched an idea about how things could be changed

So what do you think, then?

And that was perfectly fine. You’ll notice there’s no pause after “so”. Whereas in current usage there is. What’s that about. There was a period after that (probably not yet finished) when things became  so (or emphatically SO) this that or the the other. Fashions became so last year. It was making noun phrases do the work of adjectives. I have no rooted objection to that. It’s what we can do in English. Shakespeare did it all the time, pushing the limits of what could be done. But it still irritated me in a low-level way. And now the latest, passing (it will pass; things do) usage. It annoys me that I can’t actually explain the basic grammatical function of ‘so’ any more. So happy, or so cross…I get that . It’s an intensifier. And in the first examples, it’s a rhetorical device. I can live with that. Still; I think I’m becoming rooted in the role of grumpy old man.


So, I thought, tongue in cheek, I’d post a poem which for some reason I called

So I’m thinking


– of Ted Hughes’ gritstone house,

of that tunnel of a yard, its slippery flags,

of that valley of unsmoking chimneys,

an old abandoned artillery

knee-deep in brown leaf-litter,

firing blanks at a Pennine moon,


– of the abrasions of passing time,

the world wearing down till it’s bland as an egg,

to the soundtrack of seconds, a long, drawn

cello note, circling these cloughs


– of defunct mills and breweries –

Hammonds, Duttons, Websters, thin and bitter,

and of my Methodist uncle,Leonard,

and of the Pledge he signed, aged six,


– of this film I saw, in Japanese,

at the Essoldo, where the whole of an army was killed

down to the very last one, the cannibal,

shot through the smoke by the farmers

burning stubble, clearing the last of war

that ended when I was two

and still isn’t over, seventy years on,


which is not to be laid at Ted Hughes’ door,

any more than the orphans

walled in the sides of the valley

in the shadow of lums and sycamores


I’ve never sent it anywhere, as far as I can remember. It’s a sort of tribute to the times I’ve spent at Lumb Bank, to the stories of the orphanage in the valley, to the smokeless chimneys, to that dark back yard. Which turns up in one that was published (in Much Possessed)..this one started life in a workshop which invited us to think of two writers and then to put them in a landscape. There’s minimal invention in it.

Banked up


Brittle as a mirror

worrying at little lines

exquisite as ants or wasps

half-aware of an open window

banging somewhere in this long dark house

in a clenched valley

of cold chimneys and black walls

cemented with orphans’ bones

balsam flattened by the weight of wind

of trees flogging themselves to death

she cramps herself small, and smaller

dreams of dwindling

into the fastness of a shell

of lying under a full moon

in a sky of no wind


Somewhere out in the yard, a bucket has blown over

rackets about the cobbles like a big man in a rage

like a man who’d smash his fist into a gritstone wall

and sing about the blood.

so 12


So. There you are. Have a nice Friday.


6 thoughts on “So there. Or, so what?

  1. So??? – exactly… I remember noticing this last year – nearly everyone interviewed on Radio 4 seemed to commence their answer with ‘so’, as if side-stepping whatever the issue was and merely taking the opportunity to present a prepared statement (for example, ‘What is it about Wensleydale cheese that makes it taste so good?’ – answer – ‘so, the cheese is matured for seventy-five years beneath the waterfalls at Aysgarth in a secret cave’… not giving a precise answer to the question, but answering with something they wanted to get in anyway… So, yes, it annoys me too!


  2. Well, I guess it’s the new well. Well, I know that it can be irritating, but it serves a function – it gives the speaker thinking time before he actually has to commit himself. So – for that reason, I don’t object to it too much. Unlike like. He was complaining about so, and I was like, it’s not like it was as bad as like. From Jake the Peg to the Great Fogginzo – how are the mighty risen! Jean Sheridan nee Wood. Class of ’71.


  3. was there often a pause before a junior school teacher waited after what she/he regarded as a not very clever question, then they’d wait for the whole class to listen before they started with a SO…
    When tv guests use it to intro. their point of view, do they use it to establish their superiority of knowledge, insight, whatever? I find it a turn-off because of this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been thinking about it, on and off. Obviously it’s one of many devices we use to say “Right, I’m going to start” and they change like fashion. I was very conscious at some point in the 90’s when I was a lecturer that I would very frequently…too frequently…preface the sentence with “OK…” It annoyed me. Probay annoyed the students, too.


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