You begin your response with “So,” a seemingly innocuous throwaway word that you employ only to explain something–anything–with not inconsiderable complexity. You begin your sentence with “So,” that infernal “So,” because you’ve heard smart people start their remarks in that same way, with that simple, hardly heard utterance.
Here’s what I hear when I posit a question and you turn to me and start your response with the word born from the mating of Hell’s darkest demons and the damned spirits of unrepentant nerds floating along that Lake of Fire: “I’m a huge, gaping asshole. I get off on over-explaining everything. I’m condescending. I’m the smartest person in this fucking room, so go sit on a fucking pineapple and spin while I start from the very beginning of a subject far too complex for the rotten, maggot-infested hamburger meat you call brains, you motherfucker.”
That’s what I hear. In my head. When you respond to me with, “So.”
It’s become common parlance, and it’s not limited to a certain sphere of our decrepit, infantile culture: The use of “So,” to begin explanations and answer questions transcends business–where it reigns over our corporate hearts and minds–and technology and education and sports and politics. I wouldn’t bat an eye if some baby’s first word was “So,” after hearing her asshole mother and father begin every third sentence with “So.”
“So, we have a new bottle for Baby Buffy, and it’s a little more complicated than the old bottle, so let me tell you exactly how to assemble this piece of space-age technology that’ll probably short-circuit your feeble little brain.”
I’ve been beaten down by this nonstop use of “So,” in every job I’ve ever had. Shortly after graduating college, I found myself covering a school system for a local newspaper in central Maryland. I had the pleasure (read: torture) of keeping tabs on some sort of pseudo-intellectual school district superintendent from Boston–a Great White Hope who had swooped in from his posh New England abode to save a mostly black district. What an asshole.
When, on the rare occasion his team of bullying handlers would allow me five minutes with God’s Superintendent in the parking lot after a four-hour school board meeting, Mr. Boston would start every solitary godforsaken sentence with the word that drills a hole in my brain and dumps angry, hungry insects into said hole.
“You mentioned cutting funding for some after-school programs next fiscal year. Do you know which programs will be on the table?” I’d ask.
“So,” God’s Superintendent would say, and I would scream a silent scream for the Almighty to take me, take me now. “What you need to understand about these programs is that they’ve been underfunded for years now, and all I’m doing is . . .”
You get it. He’d go on and on and on, explaining details that had been sliced and diced for four fucking hours during that night’s board meeting. He did this, of course, because it made him feel smart. This was his statement of superiority leveled against the kid with the pen and the notebook and the half-broken voice recorder. And what better way to dump the flaming, steaming, stinking mountain of sick elephant shit on my head than with that magical little word: “So?”
“Do you think the school board will support those budget cuts?”
“So, my proposal is going to have to receive a majority vote from the board if we’re going to push this through to next year . . .”
That’s usually when a rivulet of blood would trickle from my left ear, and I’d pray to any deity that could hear me to claim my soul, now and forever, as long as God’s Superintendent would stop, and stop now.
In my current iteration of what we’d call work, I have daily exchanges with policy analysts–by email, text message, smoke signals, and conversations during hours-long meetings in stuffy rooms that make me sleepier than an infant with a belly full of mother’s milk. These veritable analysts of various federal and state policies are the standard bearers of the “So” movement, using the word almost exclusively in policy volleys that are, in the end, just a geeky, wonky pissing contests between people who once read three quarters of a Malcolm Gladwell book and now consider themselves geniuses without equal.
I sit there, listening to Jack Wonkerson go back and forth with Jill Wonk-Smith, bashing each other over the skulls with their knowledge of various wonky political, social, and policy topics, starting not some sentences, but all sentences, with “So.” Because, you see, Jack and Jill are both grating assholes who live to explain everything, especially their field of expertise, in detail that eats away at the edges of your very soul.
I’ve fallen for it, giving into the wonderment of crowning myself the king of knowledge. I found myself, just last week, trying to explain fantasy football to an old family friend who thought fantasy football was some perverse sexual online activity. I really did have to start from the beginning, and before I even understood what I had uttered, I said it, I became the very thing I hate, which, I hear, is everyone’s destiny.
“So, in fantasy, the thing to remember is that value is . . .”
I stopped, fighting every urge to climb into a steaming hot shower, fully clothed, and sob until my eyes felt like they had been doused in kerosene. I had submitted to the temptation of “So,” of wielding my deep knowledge of a topic as a weapon against a genuinely curious old man. I had transformed, if only for a few seconds, into the haughty, arrogant self-conscious bastards that I’ve worked with for so many years.
And here’s the thing: It felt good. I understand the appeal of “So.” We all want to be good at something, and if we’re lucky enough to achieve some level of expertise in a given field, flaunting it in the presence of the ignorant, filthy masses feels like an adrenaline shot directly to the heart. Sitting atop my bejeweled throne of godlike fake football knowledge, I looked down on the poor man who knew nothing of the game. Probably I’ll never forgive myself for that.
It needs to stop. “So” needs to die a heinous death, somewhere in the public square, hung up by its bloody feet and shown to the world as an example of what happens when we don’t use our powers for good, but rather a hatchet meant to make others feel inferior.
Every functional human should strive to learn, to read and understand and comprehend and analyze. Become proficient, even expert, in any number of general and obscure topics. Learn all you can learn, but stop with “So,” you smug, shameless asshole.