Savannah Morning News
Jan. 7, 2018
“So. What do you think about the next election?”
“So. How were you affected by the hurricane?”
“So. What’s your next project?”
Have you noticed? Six out of eight sentences in today’s conversations start with the word “so,” between friends, at cocktail parties, on the radio.
There are still some holdouts.
“Why do you think there is so much disparity in the world?” asks the erudite, nuanced Robert Siegel, the last of the great interviewers, who is leaving his 4 p.m. post on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
“So,” the interviewee starts in response to Siegel’s carefully considered question, buying time, gathering thoughts, delaying a bit.
“So” has become the first cousin to the old Valley Girl standby – “like” – where sentences might start with “like” and end in a question.
“Like, I thought I might go to grad school?”
“So” and best friend “like” are stall words. They offer a pause until you can get back on your feet, until you can think of something articulate to say. “So” announces you do have something to say (if only you could remember what it was). The same with “like.” These shell words get people to look your way. They act to soften your opinion when you’re not really certain you have an opinion, when you’re beating around the bush. “The day was, like, perfect.” No, darn it, I think to myself. The day was perfect. It wasn’t like perfect. Why can’t you just say that? No one’s going to hold your feet to anything.
The perfectly meaningless phrase, “you know,” does the same thing. When someone is telling me something and stops to say, “you know,” about a dozen times, I want to say, “No, I really don’t. I really don’t ‘know.’”
Then there’s “I mean.” This is quickly edging toward “so” in the stall department, followed by, “I just feel.” The sentence starts with “I mean …” Yes, yes, I’m thinking; I’m on the edge of my seat. What exactly do you mean? But it doesn’t end there. It moves on to, “I just feel … “ By this time, I’m starting to lose it. I’m thinking how can I get out of this. Please, enlighten me. How exactly do you feel? And why should I care what you feel anyway? This isn’t about feeling. We were talking about the weather. I think. It was so long ago I forgot.
I blame it all on emoji’s. Don’t know what they are? A) I doubt it. B) You’re lucky. C) You don’t have a cellphone. D) You are so old-fashioned you don’t text. Someone – in Japan, I’m guessing since it is a Japanese word and the Japanese are the masters of graphics – decided we DON’T NEED WORDS anymore. We don’t need subtlety or shades of difference. Instead – to dovetail with the world of mobile devices they (can you say commerce?) came up with little facial expressions, little squiggle marks. Single handedly they brought back the smiley face – just when you thought that little yellow circle with the two black dots for eyes and the black curve for a mouth had left forever. Even the Oxford Dictionary took note. In 2015, that august body named the emoji the word of the year.
What would Thomas Wolfe or Charles Dickens think of an emoji? What would they think of texting?
Me? I’m trying to bring back the arch and awkward expression, “I never heard such,” as in, “Why, those girls are wearing their skirts above their knees! I never heard such.” Or, similarly, “I never heard tell.”
Robert Siegel, what do you think of all this?
“It’s the end of your show. You’re getting out unscathed (I think, I hope). I wish you well. I thank you for your articulate sentences, your clarity, your precision, your exactitude, your intelligence, your words.”
Words: they’re a beautiful thing.