At NPR, our work is all about listening and inspiring others to listen. Reporters and editors wage a daily battle with distracting interjections - pesky 'umms,' 'likes' and 'wells' - so NPR listeners can focus instead on the content of our stories.
However, everyone talks their own talk. Sometimes guests (and even our own journalists) throw in verbal pauses that some listeners find distracting. One curious (and self-proclaimed faithful) listener wrote to tell us about a certain word they find soooooo irritating:
It keeps happening. As I listen to any of the wonderful shows you offer, the highly educated interviewees start their responses (sentences) with the word "So". I just wonder why this is happening?
They go on to answer questions posed by the host/hostess with insightful relish, and always leave me feeling more informed and amazed.
You are probably thinking, "So what?"
I just find it curious and annoying at the same time, and if anyone goes over tapes of the last month or "so", will notice this happening—perhaps longer, I'm a little slow on the uptake!
Is this just some new fad? Perhaps I'm not the only one who's noticed. Someone may already be doing an in-depth study. I will be sure to listen and be amazed at the outcome!
Thank you very much for your for your time! Most Sincerely, M. Hast, faithful listener.
Lynn Haven, FL
Thank you for contacting NPR.
We appreciate your interest in NPR programming. We cannot offer to speak on behalf of our guests regarding their individual speech patterns, however we can speculate that the word "so" generally functions as a better verbal pause than "um" while an interviewee may be considering how to phrase their response to a question.
Thank you for listening to NPR, and for your continued support of public broadcasting. For the latest news and information, visit NPR.org.
NPR Audience and Community Relations
While it may be too soon to classify it as a fad, this curious listener may have in fact made an observation that's in line with current trends in, well, talking.
As it turns out, what linguists call the sentence-initial 'so' is a recent phenomenon that is slightly different than the verbal pauses NPR hosts and reporters try to avoid. Linguistics scholar Galina Bolden suggests that beginning a sentence with 'so' cues in the listener to the significance and relevancy of the words to follow.
We can't change the way our interviewees speak, but for those listeners who are distracted by this recent linguistic phenomenon, just think of that 'so' as a super-short version of the All Things Considered theme song letting you know the time has come to listen.
Send your questions about the inner workings of NPR, something you heard during a program, or anything else NPR-related to NPR Services. Your question and the answer might even end up on the This is NPR blog.
Johnny Kauffman is an intern in NPR's Marketing, Branding and Communications division. He grew up listening to WVPE in Elkhart, IN.