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I've noticed over the past year, more speakers are using the word 'so' to preface their answer, rather than the usual 'well' or even 'uh.' Where did this originate, and why is it happening?

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Starting a sentence with "so" has been around for many decades. The following Ngram search on "so anyway" and "So anyway" will give you some idea:

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Google Books Ngram Viewer

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  • I think you'll find the well-known "so anyway" is very different from the new "so" that John quite rightly says seems have appeared spontaneously in the last or… some…, in my experience first through BBC Radio 4. "So anyway" is a well established tactic with two common uses, both different from newbie "so…" "So anyway" either drags a conversation back to another subject, or ends a pause - often a potentially embarrassing pause - by introducing a fresh subject apropos of nothing in particular. – Robbie Goodwin Nov 15 '16 at 13:54

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