Monday, November 21, 2011

So and So's.

This morning’s ‘Today’ programme on BBC Radio 4 had an item decrying a trend in current speech (and especially prominent in interviews) that’s been my number 2 annoyance for several months - the rise of the so and so’s.   This is the habit of beginning every response with ‘So’.  I reckon this all began in the US, specifically in the world of Tech and corporate media.   I’ve noticed, and been especially annoyed by, the prevalence of ‘people who say so’ in promo videos on (and about) the internet, with anything connected to Web 2.0 and later most susceptible.  Anyone who styles himself (it’s nearly always men, btw) a CEO or a CTO of a start-up company, and especially a small company, will, I guarantee it, be a ‘so-sayer’.   Also (but less irritating) the small army of well-meaning folk who produce their own how-to videos for YouTube - the ones that are just a camera pointed at screen, or a screen grab, with a muttered voice-over that starts something like “So here’s how to...’

Now the expert on Today put it down to insecurity, an audible form of inert filler, which enabled the speaker’s brain to formulate the next sentence (or, usually, the first sentence), but I’m less forgiving;  to me the ‘So’ has an undercurrent of ‘Let me explain this in simple terms for you ignorant folk’.  Fine if it's a freebie YouTube video (AND you do know what you're talking about); not so fine if you're taking part in an interview.   And very not so fine if you keep on doing it for every answer.

Here’s a handy guide for ‘so’ spotting, in corporate media at least.  The ‘so’ speaker phenomenon is often associated with a particular design and costume aesthetic.  Be alert any time you see interviewer and interviewee dressed in matching, or complementary coloured shirts that still bear the fold-lines from their packaging.  Other signs to recognise:  they’ll be striving to be cool, to transmit an atmosphere of informal chat (which often makes the conversation seem even more forced and artificial);  they’ll be in a white or black ‘limbo’ set.  

In historic times, ‘however’ was the word to avoid.  (It still is, by the way).   Perhaps I should be kinder, and say ‘however’ was the editor’s friend, the ready-made marker for the razor-blade.   That was rule 2 of the quick edit - rule 1 being to remove the first line (or paragraph, depending on the interviewee’s loquaciousness).  Rules that the ‘Today’ programme, being live for the most part, must envy.

The number 1 annoyance? Another time - for the moment let’s just say presenter eyelines.  Maybe my next piece will be titled ‘Look at me when you’re talking to me’.