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Many Japanese textbooks of English mention the "feminine 'so'": the use of "so" for "very" is more typical of a feminine speaker. I don't think this is true in the US (I learned English living in Southern California and have now lived in the US for 10 years), but is it at all true in the UK? In other parts of the world?

Most Japanese textbooks teach American English, by the way.

[edit (responding to Mitch)] I don't have access to textbooks, but some finds online:

Yahoo! answer Japan: http://detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q139835853 To a question about feminine speech, the feminine 'so' is the only example given. I think the belief is relatively widespread.

A blog post: http://ameblo.jp/yoakemae2/entry-11040928287.html "昔は feminine soと よばれ、論理的たるgentlemanは そのような 表現を 使うべきではないとさえ 言われていたようです。" (Translation: "In the past, it was called the feminine so, and it seems to have even been said that a rational gentleman should not use such an expression.") So perhaps this is only in older Japanese textbooks (like the infamous recommendation of "had better do" as a polite suggestion). Still, I'd be interested to see if there's any basis for it.

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  • It be nice to know a little more about what Japanese textbooks say (like a reference to a particular book with this claim).
    – Mitch
    Mar 26, 2012 at 3:08
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    You could probably make a case for saying certain swear words are less likely to be used by females, but other than that, English speech patterns don't meaningfully divide by gender of speaker. I think this question is just an invitation to subjective discussion. Mar 26, 2012 at 3:57
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    I actually think if someone were writing a script and wanted to stereotype (for example) X-game athlete, teenage girl, or flaming gay, they would use the word "so" more often than "very", "really", or "rather". I think it is associated with some subculture of speakers but not necessarily "feminine". In normal prose, "so" has no such connotation. Mar 26, 2012 at 4:40
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    If anything, I'd associate this particular use of "so" more with Gen Y than with feminine. I'm not sure if that makes me ageist rather than sexist, but there you go. Mar 26, 2012 at 8:06
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    See a responsive Language Log post for some relevant (but not necessarily unquestionable) data.
    – Mitch
    Mar 26, 2012 at 15:13

3 Answers 3

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Exec summary: Yes, 'so' does seem to be used more by females, but it is not a known phenomenon.

Details: As a native AmE speaker, introspectively, 'so' and 'very' don't seem to have any gender usage difference (unlike say phaticisms).

'So' does seem a bit more emphatic, a little bit more informal.

The question, though, is difficult to answer authoritatively because there's no accepted dichotomy between male and female speech patterns, so one person's introspection may be very different from another.

So the only way to really attempt to answer this is through data collection.

Luckily, Mark Liberman, in his Language Log blog posting, mid-breakfast, kindly did the needful and looked at actual data using the LDC corpus of telephone transcripts (not free) .

The brief investigation seems to support that women do tend to use 'so' over 'very', more than men (that is, 'so' tends to be more popular in both women and men, but that popularity is moreso with women).

Of course this comes with all the difficulties of real science like lack of investigation into statistical significance, the possibility of selection bias (maybe it's men and women on the -telephone- that's different?), etc, etc.

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    Interesting info! Thanks to Mark and for your link. Mar 28, 2012 at 19:24
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While Lumpy's right as far as slang or informal use of the language goes, we can find that the use of 'so' does not have a feminine connotation in certain formal uses, especially in exclamations such as:

I'm so happy!

as compared to

I'm very happy.

Here the word simply increases the degree of the verb, and can be used by both male and female speakers equally. I'm sure other such examples can be found.

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  • Of course, in some idiomatic expressions a "very" option isn't available. Anyone may say "You are so wrong!" But neither men nor women who know English well are likely to say "You are very wrong!"
    – Sven Yargs
    Mar 10, 2013 at 1:19
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First and foremost, English is my second language; although I've been speaking it for the greater part of my life. It is as if I have a different personality. Meaning, when I speak my native language, I feel completely different.

Lately, I made myself aware I'd use the word "so" instead of "very", far too often, and it makes me feel not empowered, but agreeable, and I hate it because it is not how I want to be portrayed to be; at the same time, I can be the biggest jerk, depending on my mood. Words phrases like, "this person is sooo cool or sooo genuine" to me, it feels feminine... I like to use "very" instead.

Also, the word, "feel; I feel like there is another side of the story or, I feel like you aren't reaching your fullest potential". Whereas, "You aren't meeting your goals or underperforming" are phrases that are masculine and straight to the point.

I think it is important to be mindful of who we are and be comfortable in our roles, not just influenced by the environment we are in. One can flow or behave in ways NOT just to blend in. A lot of it has to be about culture if someone asks. As a man, (or woman) one has to be mindful of how to communicate or express our ideas in a manner that shows who we are without pleasing others around you while being respectful at the same time.

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