What's the origin of the practice of starting a sentence with the word "so," even when that sentence is not following on from anything? It's not totally new (there are examples in Chaucer and Shakespeare) but it has become very common.
BLAME SILICON VALLEY
In his 1999 book, The New, New Thing, Michael Lewis noted: "When a computer programmer answers a question, he often begins with the word 'so'. (I don't know whether Lewis found this to be true only of male programmers or whether he just didn't encounter any female ones.)
Mr. Silicon Valley himself, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has the habit In an interview with the New York Times, he started four sentences with 'so' just in answering the first question. For example, "So Facebook is not one thing."
A NOXIOUS WEED?
Radio 4 presenter John Humphrys hates the practice. Really hates it.
In a column he wrote, "‘So I am beginning this sentence with a word that is so irritating when it’s used at the start of a sentence that I would understand if you were to rip out this column, screw it into a tight ball and hurl it at the radio the next time you hear my voice coming from it."
He added that "the misplaced 'so' has invaded everyday speech like some noxious weed in an untended garden."
WHAT DOES IT CONVEY?
Naturally a professor has a theory. Rutger University professor Galina Bolden says starting a sentence with so, “communicates that the speaker is interested in or concerned about the recipient… It also invokes prior conversations between the speaker and the recipient, drawing on their relationship history.”
To which I can only say another increasingly popular word: "Seriously?"
Think-tanker and speaker Hunter Thurman has a different interpretation of the effect. In 2014's most-read leadership article on Fastcompany.com, he says it insults your audience, undermines your credibility, and demonstrates that you're not 100% comfortable with what you're saying.
I think it's just an annoying substitution for "well," a way to buy an extra second to frame your answer.
I propose we stop using it, and instead choose a different random noun every time. Like radish, cartwheel or pickle.
It would perk up the audience if Zuckerberg said, "Pickle, Facebook is not one thing."
Radish, do you agree?
Galina quote from Ifoundouttoday.com
Humphrys quotes from Mail Online
Zuckerberg quote from BusinessInsider
Thurman opinion from FastCompany.com