Saturday, 21 May 2011

So, part 2: with verbs or not

I'm so not into adding 'so' to verbs.

The OED online has two more new entries for so as of 2005, in addition to the adjectival intensifier in my last post. In one, the word is used with verbs, and in the other, the word is used with negatives.  I smile to myself to think that both Clueless and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the series) get credit in the OED in the entry for so modifying a verb. “Oh thank you, Josh, I so need lessons from you on how to be cool,” Cher says, “Tell me that part about Kenny G again…?” Interestingly, Friends is not cited in the OED at all under “so”.

The other two citations in the OED for so as a verb modifier make it clear that the usage is merely slang, no more—nothing even resembling standard, formal, real English. Therefore, it should sound strange when we stumble across it in print. Which is exactly what happens:

“Silas shakes his head, and his eyes fill with pain, pity, love; he so wants to be able to tell her that he’s not the Potential.” – Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, page 301

Although this is a Young Adult novel, the usage seems forced here. In 256 uses of the word “so” in the book, it is never paired with a verb until right at the end.  Call me nitpicky, but it is an abrupt change of style. And there are many other ways of intensifying the verb “want” that do not sound so out-of-place. (I’m not sure, but I think an editor’s job is to catch stuff like that.)

Tagliamonte’s description of so with a negative is “Gen-X so”, and quite apt. Examples include “That’s so not cool,” or “That’s so not what I meant.” If memory serves, Friends was quite the proponent of this so. But wait—the data says otherwise. Tagliamonte noted only six times in the entire series that this type of so was used. I’m so surprised! As a Gen-X hanger-on, I’m so guilty of using this term to excess. But I would so never write like that! 

Works Cited
Pearce, Jackson. Sisters Red. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2010.

so, adv. and conj. Oxford English Dictionary, Second edition, 1989; online version March 2011. <>; accessed 19 May 2011.

 Tagliamonte, Sali A. and Chris Roberts. "So weird; so cool; so innovative: The use of intensifiers in the television series Friends." American Speech 80.3 (n.d.): 280-300.

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