Page 3 Profile: Susie Dent, Lexicographer


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The Independent Culture

So, has she made a mistake?

It is other people's errors with which Ms Dent is concerned at the moment. Countdown's resident lexicographer hasn't sat in Dictionary Corner for 20 years for nothing, and it is rare that she is outfoxed by a contestant. The Oxford and Princeton graduate has long worked with Oxford University Press, and in a blog on its website she has railed against the use of the word "so".

So what's so wrong with 'so'?

"The prefacing of every response to a question with 'So'," she said, has "knocked 'going forward' off the top of my bugbear list." Dent said she first notcied the language tic years ago on Five Live's Drive programme, when an interviewee began every answer with 'so'. "What jarred with me also irked dozens of other listeners, who texted the programme in droves to express their irritation," she wrote.

So? It's just part of the English lexicon

A tragedy, according to Dent. "Everyone's now at it: politicians, PR spokespeople, pop stars. Anyone, in fact, can be infected," she said. Ed Miliband's recent Conference speech to the Labour faithful was marred by painful sentences such as: "So, in education there really is a choice of two futures."

Dent dismisses the idea that "so" is an unconscious play for time" or a useful space-filler. "My own conclusion is that the all-prefacing 'so' is simply a habit, and one that has spread because, at some level, it sounds cool and confident.

"Microsoft employees claim it started with their computer programmers as a means of conveying logic and algorithmic certainty."

You could say it's the equivalent of Tony Blair's "Look"', and conveys trustworthiness. But in Dent's opinion it's "simply annoying".

So there must be worse crimes?

People may be more concerned by how easily "bling", "jeggings" and "mankini" wormed their odious path into the dictionary, but it's admirable that people such as Dent police these offences against the English language.

Who could fail to shudder when a shop claims it is selling "orange's" or "avocadoe's"? Who doesn't feel a secret superiority when their boss tells them to "file they're report"?