The New Year is the time for lists: Lists of “Bests,” and “Worsts” for the year just gone by along with predictions for the coming year.

Among those of us who work with words, one of the popular year-end lists is Lake Superior State University‘s Annual List of Banished Words. It’s a compilation of “Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness.”

museum_signThis year’s entries include annoying words and expressions like “skill set,” “foodie” and “takeaway.” To me, the most irritating words are those that are used as pretentious ways to say something simple.

My favorite from this year’s list is “curate” as a fancy word for “select.” “Curating” used to be an activity that was confined mainly to museums. But now anything can be curated. This morning, for example, I curated my underwear and socks before jumping in the shower. And incidentally, have you ever actually “jumped” in shower?

As I said, I am most irritated by needlessly pretentious words used to convey relatively simple concepts. My all-time favorite is “stakeholders.” It’s a big one with educators, who used to be known as teachers.

Here’s one more helpful tip for our academic betters: Normal adults don’t know what the hell a “rubric” is, much less the middle school kids your “behavior rubrics” are designed to control.

Another trend I’ve noticed is the tendency among some to begin nearly every sentence with the word “so,” especially when responding to a question. I first picked up on this a year or so ago, but tended to dismiss it as a verbal tic that was always there that I just hadn’t noticed.

marijuanaBut it really hit home when I served as a press panelist on the state legislative debates this past fall at WCAT. One candidate began almost every response with the word “so.”

Q. What’s your position on legalizing marijuana for recreational use?

A. So, I would be opposed to recreational pot…

In early December, a possible Ebola-infected patient was admitted to Mass General Hospital. MGH Medical Director for Emergency Preparedness Dr. Paul Biddinger came out to face the press. Fully nine of the good doctor’s 16 answers to reporters’ questions began with the word “So.”

REPORTER: When will test results come back?

BIDDINGER: So, the results will come back in a staggered fashion…

REPORTER: What symptoms are you seeing?

BIDDINGER: So, so the symptoms of Ebola can be nonspecific and broad…

The latter is an example of what I call the “stutter so,” where the speaker starts a response with multiple utterances of “so.”

I’ve heard one explanation that “so” is the new “well,” an extraneous word at the beginning of a sentence that gives the speaker an extra second to formulate a response.

I won’t point to any specific segment of the population as being responsible for this virulent trend, but let’s just say if you tune in to NPR for five minutes you will begin to recognize one medium of its proliferation.

So, you haven’t noticed this annoying trend yet? Trust me, now that I’ve called your attention to it, you’ll be hearing it everywhere.

You’re welcome.

[This column originally appeared in the January 9, 2015 Wakefield Daily Item.]

One Response to “So…What?”

  1. 1 Nancy Trimper

    These people who overuse “so” need to join Toastmasters. They will learn to eliminate “so”,” a-and” “uh”, “ah”, “um” and as used by teenagers,”like”. Only trouble is, once you’ve belonged to Toastmasters you will never listen to anyone speaking in public the same way again!

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