In the last few years, I've noticed a growing usage of the word "so" to begin a sentence, especially in the context of higher education.

For example:

Interviewer: "What is the nature of your research"

Researcher: "So, what we wanted to find out is..."

It seems to be a replacement the word "well", or, more informally, "ok". Has this usage of the word been around for a long time and I'm just now noticing it? Do you think that is a valid use of the word?

  • 1
    The Australian equivalent (if anyone's interested) is "Look".
    – chimp
    Jan 8, 2011 at 8:16
  • 4
    It's the suburban teeny bopper equivalent of "like". Jan 8, 2011 at 22:17
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    I first noticed it with the IT people at my company. Since then, it's spread ... and it's driving me nuts.
    – user7700
    Apr 22, 2011 at 21:47
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    @Gedgar: So fair and foul a day I have not seen. (Macbeth, I.3) Maybe not what you meant, but I claim my two upvotes. Aug 28, 2012 at 17:51
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    Possible duplicate of Sentences beginning with "so"? Aug 11, 2016 at 14:49

7 Answers 7


Update: More than a decade on, the links in my answer are no longer valid. See other answers for a wealth of related references.

This isn't exactly an answer to "when," but the example that you provide--of a researcher--follows the thesis of this article on the phenomenon: http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/so/ (broken)

This article is linked from http://www.cbc.ca/quirks/episode/2009/03/07/horsey-aeology-binary-black-holes-tracking-red-tides-fish-re-evolution-walk-like-a-man-fact-or-ficti/ (broken) from the CBC Radio program, Quirks & Quarks (see the very bottom of the page, where you can listen to the show excerpt about the use of the word "so").

  • 1
    Thanks for the fantastic links, Jay. I especially appreciated the explanation given on the radio program where it was explained that the usage of "so" is kind of a "get ready for a long winded explanation that will eventually answer your question". Great answer!
    – Fred
    Jan 8, 2011 at 14:52

This usage seems like a discourse marker, a way of saying "right then, pay attention, I'm about to give you the answer". Seamus Heaney, in his fantastic translation of Beowulf, uses it so:

Conventional renderings of hwæt, the first word of the poem, tend towards the archaic literary, with ‘lo’, ‘hark’, ‘behold’, ‘attend’ and – more colloquially – ‘listen’ being some of the solutions offered previously. But in Hiberno-English Scullion-speak, the particle ‘so’ came naturally to the rescue, because in that idiom ‘so’ operates as an expression that obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention. So, ‘so’ it was:

So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness. We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.

To my British ears it doesn't seem new at all.


How a Man May Choose a Good Wife From a Bad (1602): 'So, let me see: my apron.'

  • What is this source?
    – simchona
    Sep 17, 2011 at 19:31
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    OED. The citation is from ‘How to choose Good Wife’, included in ‘A select collection of old English plays, originally published by Robert Dodsley in the year 1744’, edited by William Hazlitt and published in 1874. There is an earlier citation of 1594 from Shakespeare, but it begins with a repeated ‘so’: ‘So so, quoth he, these lets attend the time.’ Both citations are under defintion 5c: ‘As an introductory particle’. Sep 17, 2011 at 19:52

I first noticed it a few years ago from Microsoft people giving sales / technical presentations. Maybe it started there?

I find it very annoying, and hope it will die out like some of the silly things we used to say when I was in college.


Joel Spolsky, I believe, once said it was a Pacific northwest thing, but I can't find it on his blog right now. That would jive with Phil's observation about Microsoft people.

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    Joel has an annoying habit to think everything important was invented by Microsoft. This would be right in character for him.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 16, 2012 at 14:19

Back in the 1930-1945 period, it was very common for people to open a discussion with the word, "say." For example, "Say, aren't you the guy who came in here yesterday asking about a Panama hat?"

The opening "so" is similar, but does carry a nuance of, "Then, considering everything we know or has been said about X, ... "


The usage now bothers me much too. But there is an older form which seems the same:

  • So I see you’ve been dating again … ?
  • So, how long have you been back in town?

Etc. I don’t know why the present usage is so grating though. Conjunctional use might be part of it.

  • 1
    I don't see much difference between the older from and the newer one.
    – Luke_0
    Sep 27, 2012 at 22:08

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