So, I keep hearing this verbal crutch during interviews...
August 22, 2006 3:06 PM   Subscribe

Is it just me, or do all technology PR people start all their explanations with the word "so"?

I listen to lots of podcasts, TV and radio interviews, etc. and perhaps I'm very sensitive to it, but I seem to notice that more people than not will start their answer to questions like "What does your product/service do?" or "How does it work?" (or lots of other questions) with the word "so".

The weird thing is, it seems to be mostly representatives from technology companies. Apple, Dell, iRobot, lots of small software companies, etc.

"So, most of the time you get a job and you have to blah blah blah. It's a real pain. What [product/service name] does is let you do that [insert advantage]."

The more interviews I listen to, the more times I hear this! Am I the only one who notices this? Are these people formally taught to answer questions this way, or do they learn it by listening to lots of interviews? Is it proper grammar, or just a verbal crutch?
posted by Wild_Eep to Society & Culture (22 answers total)
I'm not aware of any studies, and without those, I think you're just believing it because you noticed a few times.
posted by cellphone at 3:10 PM on August 22, 2006

It's a verbal tick. Lots of people, you know, like, do it.
posted by GuyZero at 3:18 PM on August 22, 2006

I've noticed that too, and it really grates! Definitely not grammatically correct imho. But I've mainly seen it in 'staged' interviews, like corporate videos. And only American men seem to do it.
posted by 8k at 3:20 PM on August 22, 2006

Is it proper grammar, or just a verbal crutch?

Title of Post: So, I keep hearing this verbal crutch during interviews...
posted by junesix at 3:21 PM on August 22, 2006

so, is it because they think it makes them sound informal and friendly? (what it makes them like in reality, i don't know..)
posted by amethysts at 3:22 PM on August 22, 2006

i dunno. i do it sometimes, particularly when explaining something complicated that requires some context. it serves the same purpose as starting an explanation with "well, ..." - that is, it's a marker that means "here is something you should know before i get to my main point".

anyway, no, not taught, just a speech pattern that comes in handy when you have to give a five-minute spiel about something.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 3:36 PM on August 22, 2006

1. Using "So..." at the beginning of an explanation frames it, in my mind, as more clearly intended as a sort of explanatory unit. It provides a sort of pre-explanation prompt: "I'm going to paint a picture here."

If I ask you a question, and you answer me with a declarative sentence, I may be inclined to presume that that first sentence is more or less your thesis. If you want to be clear that you aren't answering in concise essay form, but rather offering first a context and then a comparison/clarification, starting with "so..." signals that to me.

2. "So..." is a great way to stall for a second while you line up your actual content.
posted by cortex at 3:39 PM on August 22, 2006

damn you, sarge
posted by cortex at 3:40 PM on August 22, 2006

I hear this CONSTANTLY in my social sciences department that has a bunch of former CS people in it...
posted by rbs at 3:48 PM on August 22, 2006

Well if you talk to people alot of time, you don't what to be saying uhhh, or ummm. So, what some folks do is they replace those with the "so" or "well." It's a good way to catch your breath mentally that's not as obvious as the other umm, or uhh.
posted by bigmusic at 4:15 PM on August 22, 2006

Most of the time when I start a sentence with "So..." I'm using the time to figure out how to explain something technical to someone who is not. If I just launch into it without thinking about the perspective change whoever I'm talking to is going to be completely lost.

Perhaps that is why you hear it more often from people in the tech community.
posted by ibfrog at 5:22 PM on August 22, 2006

I hear it from just about everyone that works at Microsoft.
posted by Merdryn at 5:24 PM on August 22, 2006

We all do it in our apps group. I've been wondering about it myself, and it seems like an attempt to be . . . less forceful about the idea you are about to propose. So, I think amethysts and cortex are in the right of it.
posted by yerfatma at 5:44 PM on August 22, 2006

I work in a computer-related field, although not, god forbid, PR.

I actually noticed myself saying this yesterday a couple of times in a conversation with a programmer. I think I was doing it because the conversation was taking a turn from the personal -- how's the baby, what are you doing on the weekend -- to something technical.

Now you've made me selfconscious of course, I'll never do it again.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:56 PM on August 22, 2006

I've never been trained to say "so". However, it is a discourse market, a transition, and perhaps a loaded word. I say "loaded word" because "so" has several meanings. It means "in the manner indicated", "to such an extent", "to a great extent", "because", "consequently", "apparently", "likewise", "truthfully", and, in lay language, "in order that". These words imply agreement, hyperbole, and continuity. So that makes "so" a great choice as a lead word for verbal replies. And, because "so" can also be a conjunction, it's a good way to imply that you're continuing on from what the interviewer said.

I'm not suggesting that this is part of overt training or strategy. However, we marketing types often pick up phrases that work well for us and imbed them in our speech and writing. (Also, a lot of PR/communications/marketing people came from English, communications, and linguistics backgrounds, meaning there may be a little more academic understanding of the use of "so" than it appears.)
posted by acoutu at 6:14 PM on August 22, 2006

It's creeping into neuroscience, and whenever I hear it, I'm struck with the impression that whoever is using it heard it somewhere, thought it was cool, and consciously decided to start using it. Somehow, that makes it not cool. I find it terribly distracting.

Maybe I also find it to be condescending... It seems like I've heard it from well-established but relatively young and cocky male (so far, at least) neuroscientists. They seem to use it when they have been asked to slow down and explain themselves better.
posted by aimless at 8:02 PM on August 22, 2006

I hear "So, ..." frequently from my (male and female) colleagues in engineering, and have pointed it out occasionally (I say it frequently too). To me it seems to be the opposite of condescending: it often precedes a review or introductory sentence, used to get you up to speed, that might otherwise sound condescending. Example: "What you are researching?" "So there's this class of material called shape memory alloys..." "Yes." "Well, ..."
posted by Mapes at 8:36 PM on August 22, 2006

Interesting--I played road hockey the past weekend with a guy who, when I asked, told me he was a mechanical engineer. When we took our next break I asked him a few engineering/physics questions. The first thing he said when he started answering was "So..". Then he used it a lot.

I have heard it used, and used it myself, frequently in biological science. I see it as a way to 'soften' your manner of speech so as not to appear so much to be lecturing (as Mapes just commented).

So is also used by the questioner when he's asking a series of questions:

"What is flurgeblort?"

"So, if you take 1 gill of flurge and add 20 microflagons of blort you produce flurgeblort."

"So, if you've got flurgeblort you can theoretically filter out the flurge and produce pure flurge again?"

"Yes. Just be sure to use a high quality 2mm papyrus filter."

posted by Turtles all the way down at 6:31 AM on August 23, 2006

(Scientifically minded MeFites will of course know that passing flurgebort through a papyrus filter filters out the blort to produce pure flurge. The above was a mistake--please don't revise your protocols.)
posted by Turtles all the way down at 6:34 AM on August 23, 2006

I hear it used a lot but it usually means "Of course I already know the answer to the question I'm about to ask, but I'm going to ask it anyway."

"So... you took the crosstown bus?"
" cut your hair like that because you really like Joan Jett?"
posted by bink at 10:33 AM on August 23, 2006

I first noticed it from an engineering professor of mine and agree that it is used the way that cortex & s. sandwich describe, as kind of a preamble to the actual answer to a question.

i also noticed during the course that me and my classmates starting using it more and more but at the time I thought it was kind of a cool quirk....not sure if I still do it
posted by jacobsee at 12:10 PM on August 23, 2006

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