Monday, May 1, 2017


So, a while back a got a query in a comment on another post (;postID=3182154624480010533;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=7;src=postname) asking why I started all my posts with "So,"

The answer is simple; the explanation a little less so.

Basically, I fell into the habit of doing so in the early days of this blog (right at ten years ago now) and decided to retain it as distinctive, a part of my 'voice'. I'm also under the impression that I use it a fair amount in my daily speech.

The reason why I'm in the habit of using it is that I like the effect it gives of joining a conversation. Technically 'so' is a co-ordinating conjunction (like and, but, or, for, nor, and sometimes so and yet) yet I use it more like a conjunctive adverb (like however, nevertheless, on the other hand, &c). A sign of this is that when two sentences are joined with a co-ordinating conjunction, the conjunction is preceded with a comma.* But when two sentences are joined by a conjunctive adverb, the conjunctive adverb is preceded by a semicolon and followed by a comma.** Thus I'm using one part of speech but presenting it like another part of speech.

There's also the consideration that picky prescriptive grammarians disapprove of starting a sentence with a co-ordinating conjunction, despite the fact that the practice goes back a long way  (it's endemic in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle). So it's a small example of doing my part to reclaim a usage -- like ending a sentence with a preposition when that's the most natural word order.

Thanks to Clive S. for the query. And by the way, Clive, you're right in that well would be a very close parallel to my usage of so).

So, hope this helps.

John R.

*"He reads a lot of Tolkien, and also enjoys Dunsany."
**"He reads a lot of Tolkien; also, he enjoys Dunsany.


Wurmbrand said...

"So" may be included in some lists of coordinating conjunctions, but it's more of a subordinating conjunction. As you indicate, it implies a statement follows immediately that is related to something already said, and I would add that the implication is that the statement following is a consequence of what was said. I think there is less historical justification for the usage that starts a sentence with a subordinating conjunction (and I would include "so") than for starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. However, the "so" has become such a characteristic of your blog style that you might want to retain it. Hope that helps.

Deniz Bevan said...

I like your explanations!
I've been using the same series of drop caps for quite a few years now -- I can't imagine not doing it, for it would break the visual continuity. But I'd like to find some new drop caps, too.

N.E. Brigand said...

I hadn't noticed this, but not that you mention it, I am reminded of Seamus Heaney's decision to use "So" for "Hwaet" as the first word of his famous translation of Beowulf.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear W.
Didn't you start the last sentence of your comment with a conjunctive adverb ('However,')?

Dear D.B.
There's something to be said for a purposeful stylistic choice, sez I.

Dear N.E.B.
I had not noticed that; fun point. Thanks for sharing.

--John R.

John D. Rateliff said...

By the way, I noticed back when reading UNFINISHED TALES for the first time that Tolkien has a slight but distinctive tendency to occasionally start a sentence with'But'. I don't think I've ever seen anyone comment on this; it's my impression that the tendency grew on him in his later years.

--John R.