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"That is so Dave!" I had a discussion of this on another forum where I said that 'Dave' is being treated here as an adjective. The only responses I got were on the lines of "'Dave' is a noun."

And to complicate the topic, I got to the point in the original 'discussion' of saying:

And here's the perfect counter-argument to what I've been saying: "That is so you!" It wouldn't make sense to say that here 'you' is an adjective. 'You' is inflexibly and indisputably a pronoun. It is standing in for a noun. It would make more sense to say that here 'so' is being used like an adjective, as a kind of stand alone quality, or as a stand-in for 'typical' or 'classic'.

And the counter-argument to the counter-argument: If I say "That is such a you statement!" then 'you' is definitely being treated as an adjective.

So to pose this as a question, rather than a discussion along the lines of "Is!"-"Isn't!"- "Is too, the dictionary says so!", can I ask simply - Is there a line of linguistic thought that treats this kind of usage insightfully? That is, usage where one part of speech is shoehorned syntactically into working as another part of speech, with all the layered meanings and fruitful ambiguities that result?

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  • This is a short form of either like Dave or Dave-like.
    – bib
    May 16, 2016 at 13:42
  • But in either case it doesn't quite capture the same meaning. I don't mean that is is 'like' something Dave would do, I mean that Dave actually did it and it is absolutely typical of him, in fact it expresses something essential about him in an almost philosophical sense. Otherwise it would just make more sense to say 'Dave-like'.
    – Dunsanist
    May 16, 2016 at 13:55
  • And NOBODY says "Dave-like.'
    – Dunsanist
    May 16, 2016 at 13:56
  • The linguistic contortion of using the noun 'Dave' in an adjectival way expresses the sense that what happened didn't just express a quality of Dave-ness but lay close to the core of Dave's being--that is, that Dave was what happened, that he was the adjectival predicate to the event's subject, or that the event or attitude or whatever was an offshoot of Dave and simultaneously defined him.
    – Dunsanist
    May 16, 2016 at 13:56
  • You could think of the so aspect as the emerging idiom. The sentence That is beauty! creates no problem of syntax. Adding so is like saying That is so [much the essence of] beauty. There would be a question of someone said That is Dave!
    – bib
    May 16, 2016 at 14:23

1 Answer 1

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This article from Macmillan Dictionary Blog addresses the so + noun-as-adjective(?) usage, but only in passing. A comment reads:

I wonder if the slogan

“You’re SO Money Supermarket”

— apparently from a supermarket chain called MoneySupermarket — is a play on adjectival money (“successful”, “attractive”), as in the film Swingers: “You’re so money and you don’t even know it.” [Stan]

Douglas Kenter, Eric Lee, Rowyn McDonald, in a 2007 article written at Stanford University, discuss the emergence and increase in use of 'Gen-X So':

Gen-X So greatly extends the use of intensifier so and allows it to occur in a number of grammatical environments where use of so is traditionally considered nonstandard (Pettibone 2004). The online Oxford English Dictionary acknowledges this recent development in its draft changes from 2006, which include the addition below for the so entry:

slang (chiefly US). As an intensifier, forming non-standard grammatical constructions. The earliest recorded example is from the 1988 film Heathers

(“Grow up, Heather. Bulimia's so '86”),

which has been credited with facilitating its spread (Zwicky 2006).

Pettibone (2004) outlines the new structural environments in which Gen-X So is observed to occur. The range of structures described in that paper, along with illustrative and invented examples, are listed here:

(3) so + non-scalar adjectives You are so dead.

(4) so + nominal phrase complement That is so last year.

(5) so + prepositional phrase complement I am so out of the loop.

(6) so + verb phrase complement I am so getting that. / I so rock at this.

For canonical so, these constructions would have all been considered colloquial and nonstandard.

The general process of 'a word being used in a different word-class' is not new:

In linguistics, conversion, also called zero derivation, is a kind of word formation involving the creation of a word (of a new word class) from an existing word (of a different word class) without any change in form,[1] which is to say, derivation using only zero. For example, the noun green in golf (referring to a putting-green) is derived ultimately from the adjective green.

[Wikipedia]

However, there are syntactical changes involved around Gen-X So.

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  • Isn't it fair to say that 'so' has always been an intensifier? And as such, it intensifies verbs or adjectives, that is, actions or qualities, making it an adverb by classification? The real question is whether you can intensify a noun. In every other case 'so' just substitutes for 'very much' or 'absolutely' or some other intensifying construction.
    – Dunsanist
    May 17, 2016 at 6:18
  • @Dunsanist (1b) No; Nordquist for instance allows for intensifying adjectives. (2) I fail to see how 'so dead' / 'so out of the loop' can be seen as not exemplifying 'new structural environments' for 'so'. (3) In "That is such a you statement!", by comparison with 'That is such a Boris comment', the pre-modifier of the (head) noun is nowadays extremelt rarely considered to be an adjective. May 17, 2016 at 17:02
  • 2. I know you're not supposed to be able to intensify 'dead'. But then 'dead' here doesn't mean dead in the normal sense, it's just a form of hyperbole. 'Dead' in this sense is a perfectly scalar adjective. The innovation is in 'dead', not in 'so'. And 'out of the loop' is just a kind of compound adjective--again, 'out of the loop' is the real innovation, not the use of 'so'. You could say that 'out of the loop' should be non-scalar--you're either in or out…perhaps. 3. So we can now talk about modifiers that are neither adjectives or adverbs? Are they treated syntactically differently?
    – Dunsanist
    May 18, 2016 at 14:16
  • Your last sentence is cryptic ("However, there are syntactical changes involved around Gen-X So."). Are you referring to "So + noun" vs "So + non-noun"? I like the rest of the answer.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 8, 2016 at 9:42
  • I'd argue that all Pettibone's exemplified structures (3 - 6) should be labelled extra-grammatical (unless / until a major grammar or three remove the 'non-standard' label: 'For canonical so, these constructions would have all been considered ... nonstandard). Aug 8, 2016 at 9:50

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