IRON Press editor Peter Mortimer considers the irritating new use of a single syllable word…
Editors can get obsessive about words. Writers too. When you’re both a writer and an editor, the obsession can become unhealthy. I ask myself what does it matter if someone uses the word disinterested when what they really mean is uninterested?
Is it the end of the world that there appears no difference between the word flammable and inflammable? People are dying in tsunamis, drowning in small leaky boats, being blown up in airport terminals or beheaded online and here’s me fretting about the fact there is no known rhyme for the words oblige, silver or month. (I’d mention orange but everyone knows that one).
Governments cannot legislate on language usage. It is its own engine. Yet its apparent abuse can drive us mad. Successive French governments have long (and unsuccessfully) sought to control the americanisation of their own language, be this americanisation through the virus of new phrases, the swamping of the music charts by US singers/songs or the sheer vulgarity of the Uncle Sam culture which along with its unstoppable energy creates a lethal mix .
No-one understood better the fact that our use of language was both an intellectual abstraction and a powerful political force than the great George Orwell. Read Orwell’s essays where he bemoans sloppy and obscurantist language abuse, but also read (or reread) his classic novel 1984 where the use of the chilling new language Newspeak is a highly effective tool which makes us realise how much more than an intellectual abstraction our language is.
I shan’t dwell on the meaningless nature of such phrases as at the end of the day (now passing out of fashion), in the final analysis (which may be past its sell-by date too), or going forward (alas, still much in vogue), none of which mean a damned thing and all of which can be removed from a sentence without any change in the sense. My own theory is that such linguistic tosh is used partly as a breather so the speaker can think what he or she will say next, partly in the misguided belief that such phrases add gravitas to what is to follow.
We now have a newcomer to the ranks of linguistic miscreants. I can barely call it a phrase as it constitutes no more than a single syllable. You may even not have noticed its slow infiltration, but after reading this piece and listening carefully to a handful of interviews with MPs, PRs and celebrities, you will be more than irritatingly aware f its pervasive presence.
I refer to the word, ‘So’. The interviewer ask a question - for example, ‘when will this piece of planned legislation become law?’, the interviewee begins the reply with the word So.
The word is followed by a brief pause, after which the answer to the question begins.
The word ‘So’ has no function in these circumstances, it fulfils no purpose. How does the fashion for such a word start? Does a directive in the form of an email, tweet or Facebook message instruct people to begin their reply with same word?
Presumably not, so what prompts them to do it? Are they even aware they are doing it?
Does it matter? Should I get a life?
I shall begin my answer.
By Peter Mortimer, editor at IRON Press