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Q: Why use "So" when "Well" works so well? ( No Answer,   6 Comments )
Subject: Why use "So" when "Well" works so well?
Category: Relationships and Society > Law
Asked by: socraticinstlouis-ga
List Price: $3.25
Posted: 27 Jul 2006 20:52 PDT
Expires: 26 Aug 2006 20:52 PDT
Question ID: 750257
When did the word "so" become an acceptable substitute for the word
"well", at the beginning of a statement? Actually, I don't really mean
when, I mean why, or how, did this happen (if it did, as it seems to
me to have done). For example, if someone were to ask you "Dagmar, how
is it that you came to find yourself earning the majority of your
livelihood by answering questions on Google Answers?", would you say,
"Well, I found myself making a living on Google Answers quite by
accident. I remember it like it was just last year. I was alone in
Nadeen IV, hauling in the last of my drift-nets on a hazy, windless
Wednesday afternoon, about three hundred and fifty leagues southeast
of the Manhasset lighthouse, when I see what I thought must have been
the largest wad of sea-skimmin' kelp ever to enter the transonic
regime, and it was headed right for me and Nadeen.", or would you say
"So, I found myself making a living on Google Answers quite by
accident ..." etc.?

In the past year I've been in the extended presence of two examples of
people who insisted on using "so," where there should be a "well,",
namely, at the beginning of the answer to a question. But in both
instances I was so stunned at the lack of basic decency revealed by
the substitution of that word (so), so appalled by the sudden turn
toward bellicose antagonism (, that I  found it frankly
difficult maintain the smirk that I choose as my imperturbable
countenance. But I did, and now it's up to you to relieve my fears or
make them whole: Is this what I have to look forward to?  Is "so" the
new "well"?
There is no answer at this time.

Subject: Re: Why use "So" when "Well" works so well?
From: myoarin-ga on 28 Jul 2006 17:27 PDT
Starting the answer to a question or a reply in a conversation with
"Well, ..." is only a rhetorical habit, maybe to gain time to
formulate the response, usually  suggesting that one has understood
and is considering what the other person has just said, whereby it can
be a polite way of questioning that or of expressing contradiction,
less contradictory and confrontational than opening with "But ...".

"Well," is otherwise entirely unnecessary  - in your example and most situations.

So you're upset by people starting their reply with "so"?  I agree
with you that "well" would be better in the usage I have explained
above, but if they mean it only that way, and what follows can't be
interpreted as antagonistic, I would just consider their usage to be
an idiosyncrasy.  I expect the usage is then really a conjunction,
they are joining their reply as an explanation to what has just been
said, not a preferred practice, but common enough in the speech of
some people who use run-together sentences so much that they can't
start a reply without linking it to what has just been said.

Incidentally, I didn't find "bellicose antagonism" on 
The nearest I found were the examples:

"Apparently; well, then. Used in expressing astonishment, disapproval,
or sarcasm: So you think you've got troubles?"
"Used to express surprise or comprehension: So! You've finished your work at last."

These are specific usages, the implication given by what follows.
If this wasn't the case with your two persons, I cannot follow your
being "stunned at the lack of basic decency ..."  If they didn't mean
to imply that, then they were using the word differently than you
inferred by nailing the "bellicose antagonism" meaning to it.

Well [sic ;-], that is just my interpretation.  I think I use "well"
here more than I do in speech to try to bridge the online
communication gap that facial expressions would fill.

I'll be interested in others' opinions.
Regards, Myoarin
Subject: Re: Why use "So" when "Well" works so well?
From: tutuzdad-ga on 28 Jul 2006 18:42 PDT
I don't think this is new, nor do I think it is unique to the English
speaking world. During the almost 2 years I lived in Southern Germany
I found that the German speaking people in the  Rhineland-Palatinate
region where I lived frequently used the word "so" (perhaps not
spelled that way) to preface many statements; in particular when
someone was demonstrating something, pausing between statements, or
attempting to make a point. I don't know if this usage is common
throughout Germany or Europe as a whole, but it was certainly
prevalent where I lived.

Subject: Re: Why use "So" when "Well" works so well?
From: myoarin-ga on 29 Jul 2006 03:58 PDT
You are quite right, and it isn't limited to Southern Germany.  "So"
can be used with different inflections: questioning, neutral,
provoking, or to end discussion of a topic.  One older person used to
remark at my own usage of "so", so maybe he felt it wasn't always
appropriate  - or I still don't have the right feel for the language.

There is a wonderful sketch by the Swiss Emil Steinberger, a
caberettist, that spuffs German usage of "so".
In his slowly spoken version of high German, he describes how one is
treated in one of those US restaurants where a waiter greets one very
personably, offers the menu, fetches water, explains the finer points
of the entrees and describes in mouth-watering terms the chef's
special that isn't on the menu.
Then Emil explains that in Germany service is much more efficient. 
The waiter drops the menu on the table and disappears, reappearing
later, and packages all that personable service in a single word: 

Anyway ...
Subject: Re: Why use "So" when "Well" works so well?
From: socraticinstlouis-ga on 29 Jul 2006 20:50 PDT
This is great; I was hoping there would be several comments on this question. 

myoarin, sorry my attempts at hyperbole near the end of the question
didn't hit the mark; I don't really feel that "bellicase antagonism"
is implied by the use of 'So,' at the beginning of the answer to a
question. But it does antagonize *me* slightly when I hear that
happen, even if it's one of those gut reactions that are simple, if
not pleasant, to overcome. Since I haven't gotten used to hearing it,
I still have the momentary reaction that the person's response,
beginning as it does, will not be an answer to the question currently
hanging in the air, but rather a divergence toward other matters. If
nothing else, it serves to indicate how hardwired I am, at 46, to
expect certain sounds at certain places in a conversation.
Subject: Re: Why use "So" when "Well" works so well?
From: myoarin-ga on 30 Jul 2006 04:21 PDT
So, I thought you were quoting "bellicose antagonism" from

Maybe it's a lingering influence of German in St. Louis ...
In German, "so" could be an abbreviated "also", which means "thus",
"therefore", which is sometimes used like "well" in English, as a
filler before starting a reply.  Not recommended by rhetoricians, of

If you only notice this with two persons, maybe it is their
idiosyncrasy or their unusual inflection that draws attention.  Or
maybe it is a fad.  Back in the 1960s, lots of people would tack a
"y'know" onto every sentence and onto phrases within sentence.  Some
sportsman was caught with 11 "y'knows" in one sound bite.

I hope someone closer to the scene adds some information or an opinion.

Cheers, Myoarin
Subject: Re: Why use "So" when "Well" works so well?
From: tutuzdad-ga on 30 Jul 2006 19:15 PDT
One professor is said to have explained that the purpose of
superfluous words and phrases are "to keep the motor of the tongue
idling between thoughts" Indeed the scenario as related by Steinberger
is a familiar one. The waiter returns and expects the order to be
made. In essense he returns and asks, "Well?".

So you see, the question at hand cannot be answered accurately.
Presicely when and where such a phrase developed is very difficult if
not impossible to determine. The fact is the phrase (as used in Europe
at least) and it's usage is probably older than the three of us
combined. And that's like, really old, y'know? (sorry, I couldn't
resist using the two most irritating phrases ever invented)


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