So Why Is “So” So Popular?

AristotleSo I wanted to write something about the use of the word “so” to begin a sentence.

Traditionally the word “so” in English has served (been used for) a couple of purposes. You can say “so” as a conjunction to mean “therefore,” as when you are about to announce some conclusion: “I bought a car, so (because of this fact; therefore) I can drive you to school.”  In these cases, “so” always refers back to something already said or done.

“So” can also be used when telling a story, usually with the word “then.” You’ll often hear people listening to a story ask, “So then what happened?”

“So” can mean to a very large extent or degree, like the adverb “very,” as in “He is so big for his age!” And it can mean “about” or “approximately” when used in the expression “or so,” as in “He weighs about 150 pounds or so.”

In the last 15 years (or so), it has become more common in American English to use the word “so” to begin sentences that don’t obviously refer back to some previous statement, that are not part of a story or sequence of events, and that don’t mean the same as “very.” An article in the New York Times a few years ago shows where and why this change in English has taken place.

The “new” use of “so” is to start a sentence, replacing “filler” words like “well” or “um,” as a way to introduce what you are about to say. This way of using “so” appears to have started in Silicon Valley, the technology capital of the U.S. located in northern California, where it was used in the late ’90s by engineers and programmers.

Some think that programmers started using it because it sounded more “logical,” as though one had come up with (thought of) the obviously correct response.

While “well” and “um” sound uncertain, “so” sounds decisive. “So” implies you are certain of what you are saying. “Well, I think that…” opens a discussion; “So I think that…” gives a conclusion.

I first noticed this use of “so” two years ago when a real estate agent (someone who buys and sells houses) I was talking to would answer nearly every question I had for him by saying, “So…” I found it a little confusing, almost as though I had missed part of the conversation.

Like a lot of linguistic (related to language) trends (developments; changes over time), this use of “so” has now spread from California to other places. A few weeks ago I was talking to my college-aged nephew who lives in Chicago, and I noticed that he often used “so” to begin a sentence in this “new” way.

So (and here I mean “therefore”), if you want to sound more like a native speaker of American English, you can try starting all of your answers with the word “so.”


Photo credit: Aristotle, Wikipedia PD

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31 Responses to So Why Is “So” So Popular?

  1. emiliano says:

    So reality is too “ugly”, Tania is right, I would like to tell you how my cat sees the world and people that sorrounds him.

    So here it is what Gatufo writes from time to time:

    As a cat I could see and listen nearly everything which happens in the house, they think I can´t
    because it seems I am always sleeping.
    But do humans know how cats sleep?. Of course not.
    I feel when Emiliano is going through troubles, when he is sad, when he is worried about some things that sincerely I don´t understand. Why humans are so complicated?. He has shelter, a bed to sleep, free time as he is always indoors, and having all his necessities covered he use to be worried I don´t know why or what for.

    So what is inside Cuca´s mind?. This is a little more complicated, women have their minds more closed for a cat like me. Some how they are differents from men, her mind is not as easy or simple as it is the mind of a man.

    She use to suffers in silence, she doesn´t like to complain nearly about nothing. Some times despite she is not in good health she doesn´t said a single word about her pain. It could be because she knows that Emiliano is always worried about her health, always watching her face and so on. Why is he watching Cuca?. I don´t really know, some times they talk about her illness.

    So everything here at home use to be quiet, not too much tv., twice or three times only along the day, but there is always some little noise they called music. It is nice, but Emiliano likes to listen to this noise along hours. I don´t care, after so many time I got acustomed to this kind of sound.

    Outside home there is a world I don´t know anything about. I could see a big space through something clear, I don´t know what is it, where some time pass other people that I am not interested at all. Different noises come from outside, voices, big boxes that moves up and down without any sense to a cat
    like me.
    The worst it is they make too much noise, other time they remains hours without any movement, it is crazy. People come near the box, open little doors and go into the big box, and after a while the box started to move making that horrible noise that I don´t like absolutely.

    No, there is nothing of my interest outsie, only the sun, I like to be after the clear space taking the sun, yes I know that is taken the sun because that is how Emiliano and Cuca call it when I was under that light so warm and agreeble. But where is the sun?. Lately I don´t see it, but today here it was again and I was happy close to the clear light that warm me so much. Doing that I am happy.

    They use to say, look to Gatufo he is taken the sun, and that is the reason I know what taken the sun is. Yes, there is something that comes from outside and it is the only thing I like.

    Let me say you that the best site of the house it is on the lap of Emiliano, over there I feel sure.
    He use to touch me and it makes me feel happy, loved, his hands are so soft. I would like to play with him more times but he seems to be occupied always. With not enough time to play with me and it make me feel sad some times.

    Once again hot is here, why?. Too much hot for me, I don´t know how this my world goes on. Some times there is too much hot, and other too much cold, and I can´t see any reason for that.

    Usually I like hot, but it seems that when there is too much hot Emiliano doesn´t like to have me on his lap. He move up and down continuosly having not a moment to rest, to be quiet in peace and I dislike him going from a place to another. Sit down and do not move I would like to say him in his extrange language that I can´t pronounce.

    Why do they need to talk so much one with another, it is so easy to know what is happening inside their minds, at least for me. It seems, after all, they are not so smart as I am, as cats use to be. We don´t need to talk, we read the feelings of our groupt, of our similar cats. Of course, these big creatures are different from me, despite they have to be cat also, or not, how cats are?.who knows?. Never I have seen one.
    They call me cat, but they call themselves humans, what could be the differences…..well I don´t know and don´t care at all.

    Cat? Humans? What is the difference?. I like to say somethings to Emiliano and sometimes he seems to know what I mean, but other time he doesn´t, it depends of the day or the humor he has.

    I love Emiliano and Cuca, they love me too, I am happy at their side so for me it is more tan enough.
    I have my wáter, my food always at my will, I do wich ever thing I like to do, I clim up their bed and like to sleep together, just in the middle and Cuca or Emiliano say nothing.
    So, I would like to tell you that Emiliano makes a big sound when he sleeps but I like the sound, it makes me happy as I know he is happy resting for the next day.

    Life as a cat here is good, very good indeed.

    I would tell you more things about these my people, about this my house, and of course this my life together with Emiliano and Cuca.
    Nice people after all.
    el gatufo

    So this is Gatufo´s reality.

    Thank you Jeff, if you have a Gatufo cat, sure your mind will be changed after some time.
    My best dear friend and professor.

    Thanks Tania, your words move me to put some of our daily reality.


  2. Nermin Eminova says:

    Such kinds of posts are so so useful and interesting

  3. Dan says:

    Hello everyone.

    That’s SOooo true Jeff.

    I am used to listening to this radio show called -Le Show- hosted by Harry Shearer.

    At the start of the program he has this part called -SOs of the week-. If you guys wanna hear an example of various people using “so”Google: Le show (Harry Shearer)

    Listen to one of the latest episodes. If you happen to be thinking “mhmm I have heard this voice somewhere” it is because he was/is the voice of various characters of the Simpsons.

    The other day I was listening to an actor of whom I do not remeber the name, during the interview he said Sooo many “you know” that was almost annoying.

    Thank you Jeff, bye guys.

  4. Dan says:

    Me again,

    I am aware of my ignorance, and I am not afraid of asking: Why Aristotle’s picture? I do not get it.

    Emiliano, could you please ask Cuca, or if you know that yourself already give me an explanation please.


  5. emiliano says:

    May a Cat thinks or write?
    A good question, so I could say something about this question.

    Gatufo does, other cats I don´t know, it is something so evidently to me that now I goint to
    explain why I think so.

    Every morning Gatufo talks to me, and I reply him. Day after day we act so, that´s
    the reason that makes me think so.

    So I could write that way as it were the cat who was doing so when he is in my mind.

    So good exercise Jeff, I really think you are the best teacher I have ever had.

    Thank you “so much” dear friend.


  6. emiliano says:

    He, Dan

    I have asked Cuca about he great Greek man Aristóteles, and as I know (sorry but it is true) he was the
    teacher of Alexander the Great.
    His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology.

    So with Plato and Socrates (Plato’s teacher), Aristotle is one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy.
    Aristotle’s writings were the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing ethics, aesthetics, logic,
    science, politics, and metaphysics.

    So, having in mind Jeff is our profesor and he admires all the Greeks and Romanrs philosofers, he have taken the statue of Alejandro the Great´s teacher.
    as been the summa cum laude of teachers and philosophy in history.

    Is it so, dear Jeff?

    My best to you Dan. emiliano

  7. Peter says:

    My dear professor Jeff
    I had no clue ,up until now ,that the use of so as an starter is a newbie :))

    However , I m not crazy about t.
    My habitual filler is : you know what ” , “like” or sth close to them. But, never” so.”
    I don’t know , to me , that specific use of ” so” doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t sit well with me.

    From where I stand , filler “like” is the lost popular one.

    Thanks for the tip , though

    The truth is I badly see anybody uses it,at least among English speaker I know.

    As far as I know , the word ” so” is a popular filler among Germans.
    I mean German language
    They use it a lot
    I don’t know maybe I m wrong


  8. parviz says:

    Dear Jeff,
    SO I think Jeff always have a trick up his sleeves to amuse us.
    Thank you very much for teaching us this new Linguistic trend of using ”SO”.
    To tell the truth it doesn’t sound new to me.
    Now I remember that I Have heard this kind of using ”SO” In some movies made 2006 afterwards, But I didn’t think It was a new fashion.
    In my point of you, it is amazing how changing the position of a single word in the sentence or using another word instead, would make a huge difference.
    It is more interesting though that this new use of ”SO” invented by computer programmers, rather than Linguistics.
    So what is a linguist job any way? (is this going to be rhetoric question?)

    sincerely yours,

  9. parviz says:

    So emiliano, No body can beat you in writing lengthy posts,
    good work Dear,

  10. emiliano says:

    Dear Peter,

    So, you don´t think the use of “so” is it right?

    I don´t think so, dear Peter = I don´t think like you, dear Peter

    To me you may speak both forms and despite I don´t live in Canada, I have had the oportunity
    of speaking with several English people who comes to Spain as it is the first country in Europe
    to spend their hollidays. They like the art, the sun, the beaches and so forth.

    So it is frequently to meet some of them when you are close to the Prado museum and some
    other tourist sites like Prado, Retiro Park, The Thyssen or the East Palace.
    Spain received 58,1 millions of tourist last year. Only Madrid City received 8,9 millions of them
    being one of the first cities of Europe in number of visitors by year.
    London is the first of the world, and Paris the third but Barcelona and Madrid are among the
    15 cities more visited of the world.

    Being so, it is clear that if you like to speak with any of these tourists walking by the streets of
    Madrid it is quite easy my dear Peter to spend a while talking with them , and I like to help some
    tiems when I could see they are in trouble., and they ask me about where is the Prado, the Retiro
    Park and so on.
    Peter, if you have time do what I have done just now:
    Explore SO in the Visual Thesaurus Dictionary, it is free, and you may see
    the use of SO in English, more than fifteen forms of use, it is valid for nearly
    every situation.

    I know quite well that our dear teacher Jeff is an expert in English, in fact
    the best I have ever met, and he knows perfectly well what he teach us.
    Speaking more than five languages as he did, yes I know that, it is a fact
    that he is sure about what he said about English use “always” my dear
    Peter. Not any doubts about that, you know it perfectly well.

    It is so odd to me what you have written above, no way my dear bro.
    Please, once again, take a look to the English treasure dictionary or the
    Visual Treasure Dictionary, it easy to find it on the web, there you may
    see all the aspects and ways of using the Word SO in English.
    That´s the reason English is SO difficult to Spanish Speaking people.

    My best, emiliano
    learn all the different ways

  11. emiliano says:

    Good morning dear friends of the Blog.

    emililano again here like other mornings and yes, something to say about my reply to dear bro Peter.

    I think that all opinions are valid here if we respect our other friends opinions. But, another different
    subject is something about English teaching that is the task of our Professors, Jeff, Lucy and Warren.

    About English teaching we are not the appropriate persons to have opinions. We are learners and
    we are here to learn from our Tutors.

    Sorry Peter, but reading you opinión about English I can´t stay silence if I think, like the senior
    represent of the blogers-students, that our task here is to learn from our teachers and just give other kind
    of opinions either, but no about English language questioning what they teach us.
    That could be some how confusing to other students not so advanced as you are my friend.

    Don´t take mw wrong, Peter. I only want to make clear what our position is in the blog.
    Just to learn, not questioning our Tutors.

    As a matter of fact i have observed that actitude from you frequently, and I don´t think it could be
    good for other blogers-students.

    My best Peter, have in mind that Jeff/Lucy or Warren were not willing to say you what I said. They
    are more prudent than me, sorry about that my friend but that has been “my way” always, like
    the song of Frank Sinatra, ja, ja, yes I am seeing your serious face now being just a little angry
    with me about the reprimand…..but think, I am old and i have been or even now I try ot be a teacher too.
    Just this afternoo is coming home my dear pupil and friend Ana.


  12. Kathy says:

    Oh, I definitely hate that “so” at the start of every sentence. But I can’t decide
    if it is more annoying than “well” at the start of every sentence. Both sound like
    the speaker is lazy. I don’t want to sound like that. I want to sound smart. Hahahha! :D)

  13. Dan says:

    Have you noticed that President Obama frequently starts with “Look”

  14. Yáskara says:

    Hi, All! I’ve been following the blog for a while and I’ve never written on it before. I’m a little ashamed to write and speak in English. But today, reading the testimony of Gatufo, I decided to manifest.

    Emiliano, you are special. I have 5 cats and their lifes are exactly what was described above. With some additional ;o). I laughed from beginning to the end. Especially, about sleeping on the lap.


    Jeff, you really are the best teacher I have had. Thank you for the opportunity.

    Yáskara (Brazil)

  15. emiliano says:

    I am honored (or gatufo are) by your comment Yaskara, thank you so much. Yes, reading what you said above makes me
    happy, and please Yaskara write once and again, that would be good for you and for all of us.

    Just now gatufo knows what you said, he is on my lap again, yes it is the best site for him.

    Thanks again dear friend and yes, after several years learning English nearly all life, Jeff is the best teacher of all, at
    least for me, following the ESL podcast and writing in the blog have given me the oportunity of being a cat who
    tells stories in this language.

    Your comments are like air for the my lungs, thanks so much.


  16. dan cao says:

    Hi, everyone, I am new here. I come from China. Thank you, Jeff. You are the best teacher I have ever seen.

    Emiliano, you are a kind member here. Forgive me that I can not use more better words to praise you.

    I have learned japanese for 6 years. I am studing at Nanjing university of China. I started English learning 2 years ago.

    So, I can not write more English. I learn English here through the articles and your diary.

    Thank you for your help. Thank you everyoone here.
    dan cao

  17. Lassana says:

    Hi Everybody,

    First, thanks Jeff for this topic which is very interesting.

    I often heard the word ” So ” on podcasts, people who speak english in my company.

    It took some time to understood of ” So ” sense, because people always begin and end their sentence with this word.

    Now, it is more clear for me, but when I speak english (some english, because I am learning currently), I can’t use this word.

    I know if I want to sound more like a native speaker of American English, it is the good way.

    I still do not feel comfortable and I think when I will improved my english, I will used the word ” So ”

    See you soon !

  18. emiliano says:

    Just the same words I said to Yascara are for you dear Dan Cao, Thanks so much your words give me
    more will to write my diary and even my inner thoughts or daily life.

    So good news for me, just in this moment I have said to Cuca, she was watching a moving in her
    computer, your words and her smile is for you both too.

    So it is our evening life here at home in Madrid, Gatufo is sleeping on the couch now instead of my lap.

    Hummmm, it is so odd, I am goint to see what is happening with him.

    Thanks again dear Dan Cao, and please write more it is the best way to learn English….if you could
    se how I wrote six or seven years before when this Blog gave its firs steps, I could remember that
    I thought…….What I am going to say here, it is a good idea of Jeff/Lucy but so difficult to write and
    say something interesting?. Sure I can´t……now here we are, for me now it is like writing in Spanish
    lot of mistakes of course but my mind is an “English mind” just in the momento I write in English.

    So, see you soon.


  19. emiliano says:

    Last 4th of May it was LUCY´S BIRTHDAY, so sorry Lucy that we have not remember your Birthday just on that day but
    now on the eight I wish you ……….”A Happy Not Birthday”.

    There is only a birthday on the year, but we have 364 not birthdays… it is said to Alice in “Alice in Wonderland”.
    So again, happy not birthday Lucy, but sure you have a nice birthday last sunday with your friends and family that
    sure remember your day better than me or us…..

    Lot of gifts from your friends and family….along all year.


  20. Henrique says:

    Nice tip teacher Jeff.

    Very well explained. Those examples are so clear.

    Hi Emiliano, thank you for let gatufo tell us that nice history about “his?” life. It was funny, I read with a good smile at my face.

    Henrique (Brazil)

  21. emiliano says:

    Thank you so much Henrique, yes I think gatufo is a smart cat that have more
    stories to tell us, so it is sure he´ll write some other more.

    I have to talk with him seriously, now it is 8.30 a.m. and where is he?
    On my lap, after being all ninght on our bed without moving absolutely.

    Cuca seems a kangaroo mami as the cat likes to be stick to her
    stomach without moving, but other time is under her bent legs along
    all night.
    Why is it so?
    Cuca moves so few along the night that gatufo prefers to be close
    her than me. Yes he is a smart cat, that´s sure, always the best site.

    Thank you Henrique and write more, please.


  22. emiliano says:

    So today is thursday, fourth day of the week and as we know already the name is derived from Old English Þ?nresdæg and Middle English
    Thuresday, which means “Thor’s day”.
    A nice thursday for ever body who read this so nice Blog, home in fact.

    But it is also 9tn of May a significat day in emiliano´s life since last year. Why?. It is easy of understand just because it was the begining
    of a long period of time when he was living the worst days he could remember about his already long life.
    It was the first day that he started a treatment that was supposed to be good but nothing to do with the reality, after two months he was
    close to die if he follows with the strong treatment a month more. After that, living as a zombie, he stoped his writing, his taste for living,
    and so on.

    Now he is happy, with 12 kg. more in his body, and he have started all his activities even with more forcé and will to be useful. just to
    do what he likes to do day after day, not looking to the future that no body knows.

    So don´t try to fix everything, don´t try to prevent our future, just live today as gatufo, the Smart cat, does.

    A year has pass, life is good and it goes on with new surprises every day.

    Thanks Jeff, you were a good friend to him going through so bad time. Always in debt with you.


  23. emiliano says:

    Even more, Thursday, Jueves, Jeudi, and so on……..
    For latin languages it is Jupiter´s day.

    So for instance let us see what it is said about this day in French…..the same like in Spanish, more or less.

    “Le jeudi est le quatrième jour de la semaine civile dans plusieurs pays. Il est le cinquième de la semaine chrétienne,
    de la semaine juive et de la semaine musulmane. Le mot jeudi est issu du latin Jovis dies, signifiant « jour de Jupiter »,
    à savoir du dieu Jupiter1.o in french”

    I would like to know what in other different languages, chinese, Japanese, or Arab ….which ever other language too
    it means this day of Jueves.

    Go ahead friends of the blog and tell us what thursday in your language means.


  24. Betty says:

    Hi Everyone!

    I should be sleeping but I am checking into this blog page to read everyone’s post.

    What am I doing? I need to get up in 4 hours’ time to start a fresh day!

    Go to bed now!

    No, let me finish writing this first.

    So, Dear Emiliano, you have written so much and I am so behind.

    You are so right when you say: “So don´t try to fix everything, don´t try to prevent our future, just live today as gatufo, the Smart cat, does”.

    I agree with you so much.

    BTW, Thursday in Chinese is simply “Weekday 4th”.

    Bedtime for me now.

    Thank you all so much for your writings which are for my reading time, so nice.

    Best Regards

    Betty 🙂

  25. Betty says:

    Thanks Emiliano for telling us 4th May is Lucy’s Birthday.

    So where did you find this information?

    Did Jeff tell you?

    I know they announced it last time when it was Jeff’s birthday, but did they announce it when it was Lucy’s Birthday?

    4th May was a special day in Chinese history in 1919.

    I don’t think I want to talk about what happened on that day. Too sad!

    So I will say I will remember Lucy’s Birthday.

    That is today.

    I bet I will not remember it next year.

    You see, they say the quickest way to get a divorce is to forget your wife’s birthday.

    I am glad I am not a man who have to remember a wife’s birthday to avoid an expensive divorce.

    Bye for now.

    Betty 🙂

  26. emiliano says:

    It is easy of remember because Lucy told us years ago that her birthday was celebrated always on 5th of May…..
    What 5th of May means in the south of United States?…, here it is some explanation:

    The American Cinco de Mayo celebration originated in the Mexican-American communities of the American West,[37] Southwest,[38] and Northwest[39] in the 1860s. Mexicans and Latinos living in California during the American Civil War are credited with being the first to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in the United States.[8][40] It grew in popularity and evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, first in areas with large Mexican-American populations, like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston.[41] Eventually it expanded across the United States. On June 7, 2005, the U.S. Congress issued a Concurrent Resolution calling on the President of the United States to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe Cinco de Mayo with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

    This is so because 5th of May it is a feast in Mexico, they celebrated the defeat of French soldiers in Puebla when French ocupied Mexico because they wanted to have a French
    imperator over there, in Mexico, just incredible.
    So, 5th of May it is celebrated “The Day of the Battle of Puebla” and Lucy told us, years ago, that her birthday 4th of May in Tucson (Arizona) was translated to celebrate on fith
    of May because in Tucson celebrated this Mexican feast that is very important to all mexicans and people from south EE.UU.

    I read about it, because I didn´t know that, so now I could remember Lucy´s birthday despite now on ESL said nothing. Why did they say nothing?……that´s could be a good
    So, please all of you wish a happy birthday to Lucy (despite today is 10th of may)…and have it mind for other occasions.

    May be Lucy it is a Little shy?, well I don´t know, we could ask her.

    By the way, mine is 29th of november and last year Lucy wish me in ESL blog “a happy birthday”….So thanks Lucy once again, it was really good for me on those days.
    Cuca´s 15th of June and Betty I have always remember her birthday don´t have any doubt about that.

    As always dear Betty the best for you and your family. emiliano

  27. Jean A says:

    Thank you SO much, Jeff. I always find your posts are amusing and informative. And of course, your sense of humor is sometimes too sophisticated for me to understand, like the picture you put in this article. But still, it makes me smile somehow. That’s what makes you a great writer and teacher.

  28. ahmed masud says:

    Sir jeff
    thank you so much i got amazing things. All issues are perfect for me and all peoples. Im here new and im from INDIA..

  29. emiliano says:

    Jean A
    Ahmed Masud

    He, welcome both of you, this is the best site to learn English and write long (emiliano and other) or short, it depends of level
    and enough time to do it.
    As much as you´ll try as fast you´ll be ready to write longer.

    First I wrote here I was quite short too.

    My best wishes for you. emiliano

  30. Jean A says:

    thank you Emiliano for the welcome note! I totally agree with you about this website.

  31. Narges says:

    So, I understood that if someone become your nephew, he should be so carefull in his speeking manner 😉

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