Stop Prefixing with “So”

I was pleased to learn from Current Archaeology #330 (p. 65) that Chris Catling shares my distaste for the habit scientists have recently picked up of prefixing their answers to interview questions with ”So…”.

Q: Where did you find the new exciting fossil?
A: So we found it in Mongolia.
Q: How old is it?
A: So it’s from the Early Cretaceous.

What annoys me about this isn’t just that it’s new. I know that us speakers change language over time. My irritation is down to the fact that I reserve ”So”, when used in this position in a phrase, for two other purposes. Either to mean ”thus, ergo, it follows that”, or to indicate that I spoke about this before and was interrupted, and now I want to pick up where I left off. Neither of these apply to your first response in an interview. To my ear, it’s as bad as opening with ”Nevertheless” or ”On the other hand”.

Dear scientist, if a question about your recently published work, the work for which you have scheduled an interview with the radio, takes you by surprise, then feel free to prefix your reply with ”Well…” while you think about it. If you must.

Comments

  1. #1 John Massey
    August 17, 2017

    Drives me mad in recruitment and professional interviews.

    I have a lot of people who start to answer a question by saying “OK, so…”. To every single question.

    It’s a tic. A habit. They pick it up from watching other people. A lot of HK people pick it up from watching Americans, so they think it’s the right way to address a question – along with the fake American accent, which also irritates me. If a person got the American accent by getting education in America, fine, I don’t have grounds to be irritated by that, but most don’t, they pick up the fake accent by watching TV and copying it; practising it.

    I interview people who got education in the UK – they don’t come back with regional English accents. So the copying of accent is deliberately acquired.

    No one can think of an answer while saying one word.

    Word of advice to interviewees: Rule No. 1 – Don’t irritate the shit out of the head of the interview board by trying to con him with a fake accent and fake speech mannerisms. It doesn’t impress him.

  2. #2 Sarah Jane Smith
    August 17, 2017

    So, you shouldn’t allow yourselves to become irritated so easily. If this little word annoys you, it’s your fault. Don’t blame anyone else for it.

    Your annoyance is not my command.

    All of language is a tic. All of language is a habit. It’s tics and habits all the way down.

    As you move through life, try to be less peevish and less petty. Be glad that you have food to eat, and that you aren’t living in a war zone or in a disaster area.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/mark-zuckerberg/10833860/So-not-quite-the-useless-conjunction-we-like-to-believe.html

  3. #3 Martin R
    August 17, 2017

    Haha, that’s not bad for a drive-by shooter comment! I wonder if S.J. will return.

  4. #4 Jim Sweeney
    Australia
    August 17, 2017

    Look, I know it’s annoying – tell me about it! But, however,it’s just one of a long series of “junk words” used by people with lazy speech habits. So, I personally feel we should just let it die a natural death like all the others, eh?

  5. #5 Martin R
    August 17, 2017

    I’m confused. Are you suggesting that I shouldn’t talk about language on my blog? Check the language tag!

    http://scienceblogs.com/aardvarchaeology/category/language/

  6. #6 Eric Lund
    August 17, 2017

    I haven’t noticed this usage of “so” as being a thing in the US. Maybe it has been trending in the UK, from which the US is divided by a common language.

    As verbal tics go, it’s not the most annoying I’ve heard of. I would give that award to Valley speak–like, you know, totally, gag me with a spoon–which fortunately proved to be a fad but was completely inescapable for a few years thanks to Frank Zappa and his daughter Moon Unit. The valley in question is the San Fernando valley, a working-class section of Los Angeles located north and northwest of the city center, on the other side of the famous hills where many of the rich people live.

  7. #7 Martin R
    August 17, 2017

    US and Canadian scientists, not Brits.

  8. #8 Jim Sweeney
    August 17, 2017

    Re: #5 – I hope that wasn’t me you found confusing, Martin. All I did was string together as many over-used or annoying words as I could think of in five minutes. When I think of the number of “fashionable” words that have come into and out of fashion since my youth, I’m slightly amazed we can still understand each other…

  9. #9 Martin R
    August 17, 2017

    You’re way ahead of me.

  10. #10 Jonathan Lubin
    Minnesota
    August 17, 2017

    It is extremely common in the US. I hear it on the radio all too frequently.

  11. #11 Birger Johansson
    August 17, 2017

    So, like, em, don’ t diss the Valley.
    It totally served as inspiration for the last good TV series produced by MTV before they sold out: “Death Valley”.

  12. #12 Eric Lund
    August 17, 2017

    Birger@11: I’m so old, I remember when MTV used to play music videos. That was their reason for being, back in the day. Then they sold out by running a cartoon show called “Beavis and Butthead”, the intellectual level of which can be inferred from the names of the title characters.

  13. #13 John Massey
    August 18, 2017

    “If this little word annoys you, it’s your fault.”
    Not when my job is to critically assess candidates on, inter alia, effectiveness of communication, which includes persuasiveness and avoidance of irritating the listener to the point of alienation.

    “Your annoyance is not my command.”
    If you want me to employ you, it bloody well is.

    “try to be less peevish and less petty”
    Effective communication is not peevish and petty. In professional fields it is absolutely vital.

    The article on Zuckerberg is drivel, by the way; you think very much faster than you speak; you also don’t say what you think.

    Finally, next time you drive by to dispense your martyr’s wisdom and virtue-signalling, you might pause long enough to understand the context of the discussion before diving in.

  14. #14 John Massey
    August 18, 2017

    Editing an ecological survey report in Word is mildly nightmarish. The program thinks every scientific name is a spelling mistake. Nowhere near as nightmarish as identifying all of the species and writing such a report though, I would think. I admire those people, especially those who are already working in a second language.

  15. #15 John Massey
    August 18, 2017

    Quite excited that our ecology survey has recorded evidence of current activity by one or more of these:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leopard_cat

    People who think of HK as only a concrete jungle and are not familiar with the 60% of land area that is undeveloped and wild find it hard to believe that they still exist here and are not that rare, but they are very shy, nocturnal and very difficult to spot.

    At least 5,000 years ago they were domesticated in Neolithic China (or at least commensal with humans), but were ultimately replaced by domesticates descended from the Middle Eastern Wild Cat.

  16. #16 Birger Johansson
    August 18, 2017

    Eric, in the eighties, MTV dared show two avant-garde animated TV series under the headline “MTV Oddities”;
    ‘The Maxx’, a surreal urban fantasy based on the graphic novel by Sam Kieth, and the more ‘underground’ “The Head Saves The Earth” [only available on VHS] .
    ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ was more like a satire of how people expext dumb teenage boys to be. As an off-shoot MTV produced the more ‘highbrow’ “Daria”.
    Daria was strangely appropriate for Reagan-era USA. (Amazon comment:”Daria was born alienated and now she’s just trying to make it through high school with as little human contact as possible. Daria lacks enthusiasm but she makes up for it with sarcasm.”)
    — — —
    John, I hope the wildlife currently making a living in the gaps of your urban environment does not include the torchwood weevils. https://www.google.se/search?q=torchwood+weevil&safe=active&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj6wI7_seDVAhUGKpoKHckODxAQsAQILw&biw=1131&bih=823

  17. #17 Birger Johansson
    August 18, 2017

    Not a cure for sloppy language, unfortunately.
    “A vaccine for a synthetic psychoactive drug”
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature23464.html?foxtrotcallback=true

  18. #18 John Massey
    August 18, 2017

    Birger@16 – No, none of those. Actually, away from the main business areas, the urban environments are more like gaps between the Country Parks, with many of the Parks being continuous to the extent that they can form larger faunal habitats. The mammalian fauna in HK is a surprisingly long list with some unexpected members. We’re pretty confident that the tigers are gone, but you never know – occasionally villagers report pug marks too large to be made by any dog, and it’s certainly not impossible for a tiger to make it here from the Mainland, where there is a programme to reintroduce the South China Tiger to the wild – if one did, there is just about enough contiguous very heavily overgrown habitat to support and conceal one; and no shortage of feral dogs for it to catch and eat, not to mention other feral animals (wild boar, feral cattle, etc.) and barking deer.

    If one ever does come around our way, I just hope I’m not one of the feral animals it fancies for dinner.

  19. #19 Birger Johansson
    August 18, 2017

    Re. language, usually it is American colloquial English we get exposed to, at a scale meaning ten-year-olds now have a vocabulary of American slang words.
    But with British film, we also get exposed to cockney, and various other Brit dialects.
    So I wonder, what does “cor, blimey” mean? Or “total pans”?
    — — —

    One of these stories is satire. Guess which.
    Alex Jones: “The KKK is Really Jewish Actors” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches/2017/08/16/jones-kkk-really-jewish-actors/

    “Booze gave me a new lease of life”, says ex-jogger
    http://www.newsbiscuit.com/2017/08/18/booze-gave-me-a-new-lease-of-life-says-ex-jogger/

  20. #20 Eric Lund
    August 18, 2017

    Editing an ecological survey any technical report in Word is mildly nightmarish.

    FTFY, John. Word does have the tools to do most things the right way, but it is far too easy to do things the wrong way. The mathematical typography of Microsoft Equation Editor sucks (I am a physicist, so this is an important consideration for me), and the way tables are implemented makes them easy to create but hard to edit. That’s in addition to flagging common scientific terms as misspelled. For most journals in my field, citations are called out by author name (e.g., Fulano et al., 2013), and unless an author has a particularly common surname, Word thinks it is misspelled. Even worse, if automatic spelling correction is enabled, it will “correct” these things to something wrong. I once reviewed a manuscript that wanted to cite some papers by a man with the surname Raeder, but Word “corrected” the spelling to Reader.

    I use LaTeX, which does have its disadvantages (among them a very steep learning curve), but once you have created a document in LaTeX, it is relatively for you (or somebody else knowledgeable in LaTeX) to edit.

  21. #21 Eric Lund
    August 18, 2017

    you think very much faster than you speak

    A guy I know through work tells a story about the days when 33 MHz was considered an impressive clock speed in a computer (this would have been early to mid 1990s). He saw an ad for a computer with a clock speed of “33 mHz” and thought to himself, “I can have a thought every 30 seconds.” (He happens to be an expert on electromagnetic waves in that frequency range.) Lesson: There are times when correct capitalization matters.

  22. #22 Birger Johansson
    August 18, 2017

    FUUCK there har been a knife attack in Åbo, Finland, with two dead. It makes little sense as Finland hardly is associated with war in the Middle East. Home- grown nutters?

  23. #23 Phillip Helbig
    Tyskland
    August 18, 2017

    ” It makes little sense as Finland hardly is associated with war in the Middle East.”

    This assumes that terrorist attacks follow some sort of logic. At some level, the whole point of terrorism, as opposed to a proper war, is that it doesn’t follow logic.

  24. #24 Eric Lund
    August 18, 2017

    This assumes that terrorist attacks follow some sort of logic.

    Actually, they do; they just start from a vastly different set of premises than those you or I would start with.

    The goal of a terrorist attack is to legitimize the terrorists, either by creating fear in the target population, or by inducing a government overreaction, or both. (The 11 September attacks were highly successful on both points.) They choose soft targets precisely because soft targets are easier to hit than hard targets. This explains such targets as the landside area of airports (as in Brussels) or areas with large crowds (such as Charlottesville or Barcelona).

    Lone wolf attacks are less likely to make sense, because the perpetrator will have been less likely to have thought out the consequences of what he is doing. These are not terrorist attacks, although some perpetrators (such as the guy in Orlando last year) may identify with terrorist groups. When they do, it’s just a self-justification for something they were going to do anyway.

    One of the biggest clues that the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was an act of domestic terrorism was that the targeted building was in Oklahoma City. Terrorists from outside the US prefer higher profile target cities: New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and maybe Chicago.

  25. #25 Sean M
    August 18, 2017

    Philip: Yes, if you think that groups like Daˀesh went from “newly released prisoners of war” to lords of half Syria and half Iraq without some very careful, instrumentally rational plans you are mistaken. They don’t necessarily share those plans with the eager young people whom they send to do the killing, but they have those plans in mind when they write propaganda and hand out the rifles and the sacks of money. The textbooks are widely available, because counter-terrorists and counter-insurgents have to read them too.

  26. #26 Martin R
    August 18, 2017

    Cor blimey = May God blind me (if this isn’t the strangest thing I’ve ever seen)

  27. #27 Birger Johansson
    August 19, 2017

    Science, August 4th has a few pages dedicated to “elemental haiku “.
    Cobalt, ( Co ):

    Traded from Persia,
    a blue more precious than gold
    for a Chinese vase.

  28. #28 Birger Johansson
    August 19, 2017

    Copper, Cu:

    Before the Bronze Age,
    before history began,
    bent to the smith’s need.

  29. #29 Birger Johansson
    August 19, 2017

    Mercury, Hg:

    Madness the price paid
    for your molten alchemy.
    Metal. Planet. God.

  30. #30 John Massey
    August 19, 2017

    Birger@19 – The other expression you referred to should be “total pants”, “pants” (i.e. trousers) being used as a slang word to mean nonsense or rubbish. So a reasonable translation of “total pants” would be “complete and utter rubbish” or “total crap”.

    The original slang expression was “a pile of pants”, presumed to refer to a pile of dirty, smelly clothes that needed to be washed.

    I have met some real, genuine Cockneys (not all Londoners are entitled to call themselves Cockneys; only those from a certain area of London), and their speech is totally unintelligible to me.

  31. #31 John Massey
    August 19, 2017

    I’m currently quite enjoying a Netflix sci-fi series (actually a Canadian TV production) called “Killjoys”, mostly because the lead is played by a beautiful English actress (Nigerian forensic pathologist father, Norwegian model mother) who speaks with a beautiful English accent. (It’s really annoying that the English seem to have an inexhaustible supply of very good actresses of part-African ancestry, all of whom are absolute knock-outs physically and with beautiful voices in a range of perfect English regional accents.)

    Brief explanation – the Killjoys are a group of bounty hunters living in some weird dystopian future, who earn their living by hunting down and ‘taking out’ various alleged criminals.

    I have yet to decipher most of the short opening song that begins each episode, but the last line is “Goin’ get you gone” i.e. I am going to ‘get you gone’, meaning I am going to get you ‘put away’.

  32. #32 John Massey
    August 19, 2017

    Based on the report I am currently reviewing/editing/amending and having to partly rewrite, my assessment of the various contributing disciplines is that archaeologists and ecologists are painstaking, methodical and careful, while landscape architects are lazy, corner-cutting and inattentive.

    Limited samples, though, so probably not a totally fair assessment; e.g. the company I work for has one archaeologist, who I have never met, but aside from a bit of wonky English, (s)he is bloody good, whoever (s)he is. I am so impressed I feel motivated to find out who it is and compliment him/her on his/her work.

    Ditto the ecologists who document all the plant and animal species in an area, including terrestrial, freshwater and marine – never met them, bit of wonky English, but they are very careful and exacting with the plethora of scientific names (and common names in English) they need to compile; whereas the landscapers had only to compile a few scientific names of trees, but I still had to correct mistakes in some of these names. Plus they repeatedly took the short cut of noting “tree A, tree B, tree C, etc., i.e. couldn’t be bothered fully documenting all of the tree species in an area.

    When you need a civil engineer to correct you on the spelling of scientific names of trees, you are advised to look to your rigour in your own discipline.

  33. #33 John Massey
    August 19, 2017

    Yeah, via the magic of the Internet, here it is: Killjoys Intro/theme song:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8i8QJ5-Dx3o

    And the lyrics:
    Come come, come, come invited;
    Run, run, run ’till I find you;
    I don’t care which side that you’re fighting;
    Gonna’ get you gone.

    Now all I need are subtitles for the speech in all of the episodes so I have some chance of understanding what they are saying.

  34. #34 John Massey
    August 19, 2017

    Yeah, I thought those lyrics sounded wrong.

    The first line should be ‘Come, come, come uninvited’. Doesn’t make sense, otherwise.

    I’m informed that it’s sung by two rather scary sounding ladies from the Irish punk group The Mahones.

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