I tried to look this up myself, but I couldn't find the answer, so...
August 29, 2013 8:32 AM   Subscribe

What is the origin of ending a sentence with a trailing "so..." ? Who is on record first using it? How did it spread? I am talking about the annoying unfinished sentence word: "We would have gone cycling, but I couldn't find my bike, so..." I am not talking about the legitimate adverb: "I love biking so!"
posted by michaelh to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Unfortunately, Online Etymology Dictionary doesn't cover this usage. It's a sentence fragment, using "so" as a conjunction to a second phrase that is left unsaid.

As for the origin and spread of use, I couldn't find anything, so I'll let others weigh in. ;)
posted by filthy light thief at 8:40 AM on August 29, 2013


I am struggling to find the link to a very recent article about the increase in ellipses reflecting the influence of casual, Internet-driven written communication. People use that and em-dashes more because they're trying to write like they talk, pauses and uncertainty and all.

I would like to devote the remainder of my comment to people who end questions in emails with “…, or?” It sounds so rude, nobody talks like that.
posted by migurski at 8:46 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I doubt this has a single origin. It is simply the result of unfinished thought--which people have certainly been doing since, well, we began to think.

I do think that society has become more permissive about speech and language and so people are not so eager to present finished, polished thoughts and sentences as they once were.
posted by epanalepsis at 8:47 AM on August 29, 2013


It's just poor sentence/thought* structure, which is as old as language. The 'so' that trails off does that because the implied phrase that follows it only repeats information that has already been conveyed at the beginning of the sentence.

We would have gone cycling, but I couldn't find my bike, so... we didn't go cycling.

But that fact is already implied by the first phrase 'We would have gone cycling'.

* third rail described this sort of phenomenon in a thread yesterday as 'performative shorthand', where the written communication has taken on aspects of spoken communication. For instance, it's easy to imagine non-verbal gestures accompanying these types of sentences. *shrug*
posted by carsonb at 8:51 AM on August 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


I can't speak to the origins of deliberately using this construction, but I'll go on the record as someone who does this in speech far too much. It's not an affectation; I honestly mean to finish the sentence, but I simply lose the words. I feel a little stupid every time I do it. I swear I'm working on it. I was hoping you wouldn't notice.

It's likely a result of diction and public speaking not being widely taught. I'd imagine you wouldn't hear this as often in people who were on their school's debate team or student council.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:57 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The way this is frequently expressed, there's not really a trailing off, more of a definitive sentence stop after "so." In the example it's a useful shorthand for the unsaid "we couldn't go."

There's also the so-called "academic 'so'", which is used as a kind of opening throat-clearer in answering questions. Frequently heard in NPR interviews. As in: "Why didn't you go cycling?" "So, we would have gone, but I couldn't find my bike." So, this is possibly related.
posted by beagle at 9:03 AM on August 29, 2013


People use that and em-dashes more because they're trying to write like they talk, pauses and uncertainty and all.

Court reports don't quite agree: three ellipses indicate an unfinished sentence, where dashes indicate someone was cut off; or dashes can also indicate an incomplete thought.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:10 AM on August 29, 2013


I do this as well, despite being vastly overeducated, having been on a debate team, and having several LAMDA qualifications in speaking poetry and prose. Like Metroid Baby, I honestly do mean to finish the sentence but I need to pause to think of the right words, and the conversation moves on whilst I'm doing so. I tend to use sentences that are long and have too many clauses, which may be part of the reason. I'm aware that people can find it annoying and try not to do it, but generally don't succeed very well.
posted by gnimmel at 9:15 AM on August 29, 2013


where dashes indicate someone was cut off; or dashes can also indicate an incomplete thought.

I don't think the em-dashes that migurski refers to are the ones ending a thought -- rather it's using them how I just did right then (and I am super guilty of using them constantly), instead of commas or semicolons or parentheses, depending on the context.
posted by brainmouse at 9:15 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah those are the ones. They seem to indicate a break in thought or a digression.
posted by migurski at 9:21 AM on August 29, 2013


Have you looked for this on tvtropes?
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:22 AM on August 29, 2013


I am struggling to find the link to a very recent article about the increase in ellipses reflecting the influence of casual, Internet-driven written communication.

Slate's article from July 29th: Ellipses: Why so common? What are they really for?
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:44 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lexicon Valley podcast #7 talks about this.
posted by radioamy at 9:53 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really, really like the idea carsonb mentioned about "performative shorthand," but as third rail totally owns the google search on that term, I conclude that it's a term of relatively recent and limited coinage... :-) I do hope that some of you will write PhD dissertations on it so that the body of knowledge will be extended on this important-sounding concept.

Part of me wants to say "if you start trying to figure out the function of all of these kinds of verbal/written tics as if they're representative at all of formal, correct printed language, you'll drive yourself insane," but I confess to often thinking similar thoughts to yours.

However, I will admit to being entranced by this translation of Beowolf precisely because the first line is:

So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by[...]

Also, I could be inclined to quibble with your statement about "so" in the sentence "I love biking so!" being a "legitimate adverb." Maybe the adverb per se is correct but that sort of sentence always grates on me as an incomplete comparison.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:36 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


You do this to elicit information. It is a gentle invitation to the person you are speaking with to wrap up the unfinished sentence with details you are unaware of.

"I know this. I know that. I wonder about X. And so?"
posted by Mr. Yuck at 5:28 PM on August 29, 2013


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