I am ready to call it. With just over one month left in the year, it is time to name the top annoying filler word for 2014. The title of this post should have given it away. Our winner this year is the word "so."
It started innocuously… Presenters would show a slide, followed by another slide continuing the same concept. They would link the two by using the connector word "so." That is proper conjunctive usage:
"I told you that so I can tell you this."
"You have now heard some facts. So what conclusions can we draw?"
But slowly, inexorably, usage got a little sloppier and a little more pervasive. Every slide became a continuation of the main presentation topic:
"So, the next thing to talk about is this agenda item."
"So" was beginning to lose an antecedent as a linking reference. Once that became commonplace, "so" started to become a generic noise used to signal the start of a concept. It allowed the speaker to move into a new section of the speech without having to think of a linguistic segue or introduction. Just say "so" and you automatically get permission to introduce anything as your next topic point.
Now things have gotten so bad that people start a new piece of writing with the word:
"So the other day I was out walking the dog and saw a car crash."
"So, has anyone seen the new Iron Man movie trailer?"
Stop it. Just stop it. Beginning a thought with "so" is unnecessary. It's a meaningless crutch that adds no value. Connectives and conjunctions belong between linked clauses (and sometimes between conceptually linked sentences or presentation slides). They are not springboards for new topic points.
I called out "so" for its newfound omnipresence in both spoken and written communication. It has moved ahead of last year's most annoying "sort of" and "kind of" qualifiers. But traditionalists in the audience should not despair… "so" is in no danger of edging out the all-time champs "ummm" and "you know." Along with the abhorrent "like," they seem destined to live on like cockroaches after the rest of us have died.