So soon forsaken: What do Mark Zuckerberg and William Shakespeare have in common?
Shakespeare got all the way to Sonnet 134 before he tried it: “So, now I have confess’d that he is thine, And I myself am mortgag’d to thy will.”
In the hands of the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg the construction is - admittedly - less elegant. “So, what we want to do is build a pipeline of experiences for people to have,” he said in a recent New York Times interview outlining his views on creating new apps
So, what do the greatest writer in the history of the English language and the founder of the world’s most popular social media platform have in common with the rest of us? The answer, it seems, is using the word “so” at the beginning of a sentence.
According to a growing body of business opinion the fashion for deploying the traditional two-letter conjunction to preface a statement could be actively damaging to career prospects as well as alienating colleagues who subconsciously believe they are being spoken down to when they hear it
A recent blog posting on the influential Business Insider website identified Zuckerberg using “so” as an opening gambit on four occasions in the first answer in his Times interview alone.
Writing in Fast Company, Thriveplan founder Hunter Thurman has warned against its use, noting three reasons to avoid it. He claims it insults an audience’s intelligence, undermines credibility and demonstrates the speaker is not comfortable with what they are saying.
“Rather than just plainly answering their question, you’re relying on the crutch of a practiced blurb. Usually, whatever follows 'so’ is a carefully crafted sentence, evolved over many iterations and audience reactions,” he said.
Like the Facebook founder, Shakespeare wasn't afraid to start a sentence with 'so' (Getty) The trend was first identified back in 1999 as the discourse marker of choice among pre-dot.com bubble Silicon Valley programmers. Linguistics scholar Galina Bolden of Rutgers University is a global authority on the word and has made around a hundred hours of field recordings of everyday conversations between family and friends.
She has seen an increase in the use of “so” used to preface a question between the 1970s and the 2000s in research conducted in the UK and the United States. The evidence suggests that the trend may be a US import to Britain, she said.
But it serves a number of useful functions. “In my research, I show that ‘so’ does relational or interpersonal work, conveying the speaker's interest in and concern for the person they are talking to,” Professor Bolden told The Independent.
“By using "so" before these sorts of questions, the speaker is saying something along the lines ‘I'm interested in your life', ‘I've been wondering how you are’, or ‘I've been meaning to ask you how this particular thing in your life has been going',” she said.
"`So’ has been getting some bad press recently, as a sort of a parasite word, which might eventually lead to a decrease in its usage, but it's hard to say,” she said.
“In fact, I think 'so’ is an extremely useful conversational resource for conveying things without saying them explicitly, for claiming relationships and connections without articulating them, and for building personal relationships tacitly, without having that dreaded conversation about ‘the relationship’ - doing all of this underneath the interactional surface,” she added.
Speech coach Harry Key, author of Speak for Yourself: Talk to Impress, Influence and Make an Impact, said: “The question to ask is whether it is working for you. The thing to focus on is flexibility. If you can’t not say it – if it is coming out of your mouth like `ums’ and `ahs’ and `you knows’ - then it is becoming a hindrance rather than a help and you need to change.”
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