Pop culture sows segues in the vernacular

EVANSTON, Ill. (U-WIRE) — So I’ve been thinking about the S-word. No, not that S-word. I’ve been obsessing over the word “so.”
So what?
Exactly.
To a person, we seem to have lost the ability to begin a story without the word “so.”
Some examples of its multipurpose banality:
Telling a friend about a boring lecture? “So I was in economics today …”
Get snarled in traffic? “So I was on the Dan Ryan …”
Proposing marriage? “So you want to get hitched?”
Stories are important to me; words are my currency. I take this trend to be a grave threat to our language. Not since “like” snaked into our vernacular have English purists like me lost so much sleep. Like, you know what I’m, like, saying?
Sure, the S-word serves a function. It makes for an elegant non sequitur, given its original charge to indicate cause and effect — “I was hungry, so I ate.” When one skips to “so,” one can imply an unsaid cause. It’s context in a box.
Beginning with “so” is telling your audience, “I’m not going to bore you with the details. I’m going to dive right into the meat of my story.”
It is also a warning sign that says, “Caution: High jinks around the next corner.” We do not begin serious thoughts with “so.” As proof, try to imagine how a sampling of weighty books would be read differently were they to begin with “so.”
“So call me Ishmael …”
“So it was the best of times, it was the worst of times …”
“So in the beginning …”
For decades, stand-up comics have used “so” to segue between parts of their schticks.
For instance, the crotch grabber, an alleged comedian himself, might start a bit with, “So I was on electronic monitoring the other day. You ever try to bathe with one of those things? It’s shocking.”
In its comic infancy, “so” was fresh; now it’s about as fresh as leftover lutefisk. We’ve been so-so’d to death.
Clearly, we are to blame “Seinfeld” and its Jerry pranksters for the rise in “so” sightings. Like “yadda, yadda, yadda” before it, “so” would never have become so commonplace were it not for repeated Thursday-night use.
For instance, how familiar do the following sound?
“So George and I were at the gym…”
“So I saw Sue Allen Mishkie today…”
“So I was masturbating in front of Mom …”
I love Jerry Seinfeld as much as the next guy, especially if the next guy is played by Wayne Knight. But our hero-worship can only go so far. If we’re not careful, we’ll all become self-aware, ultra-ironic Superman buffs who never say nice things but manage to have new girlfriends each week — not that there’s anything wrong with that.
So I propose a moratorium. Let us never begin a sentence with “so” again. As we say farewell to our beloved must-see friends this Thursday, let it be our tribute, our thanks for all the belly laughs and all the pop culture that the show has given us.
Allow me, then, to indulge in the S-word one last time: So be it.

Luke Seeman’s column originally appeared in Friday’s Northwestern University Daily Northwestern.