Are you a verbal hedger? Do you uptalk, pepper your speech with “like,” or say things such as “I feel like” instead of “I think”? It’s okay; though these habits may create the impression that the speaker is not confident, there’s a growing wave of acceptance for these Valley-Girlish tics.
Recently, Business Insider came out in support of another vocal quirk of modern conversationalists: starting sentences with the word “so.” Technically, “so” functions as either a conjunction or an adverb, which means it can be used either to connect two independent clauses in a sentence or to modify an adjective (so cool!). Increasingly, however, people are beginning sentences and even conversations with “so,” as in: “So, how was work today?” or “So, I had to cancel my credit card.” While Fast Company savaged this practice for insulting your audience and undermining your credibility, Business Insider’s Christina Sterbenz argues that it actually facilitates relationship-building by calling back to previous conversations.
I couldn’t agree more, and frankly I think conjunctions are just too useful to be restricted to conjoining clauses. Why can’t I start a protest with “But that doesn’t make any sense!” or follow up on a previous thought with “And you weren’t invited anyway!” or greet my friend with “So, how did the date go?” These add-ons shade statements with nuance or with vigor, much like “like,” uptalking, and “I feel like.”
Why are we in such a rush to ban naturally arising functions of language? If anything, modern life demands even more creative options for facilitating communication and easing social interactions. So, I feel like I’d like to add another hedge to the accepted canon: ending statements with conjunctions. No, not in an email to your boss or well-crafted essay, but in everyday speech -- again, much like “like” or uptalk.
Here’s how this works: You’re having a free-flowing chat with someone, and you find you’re not quite sure how to end what you’re saying, so instead, you finish with something along the lines of “Yeah, it’s pretty exciting, though we’re not really sure whether it will work out, so...” At this point, your conversational partner will hopefully jump in to offer some thoughts on your "exciting" new plan, and you won’t have to keep going. If they’re silent, you can tack on another clause: “... so I guess we’ll see how it goes,” for example. Or, if you fail to come up with any more words, that “so” will just dangle there slightly awkwardly while you both fish around for something to say. Oops.
Yes, this is unconventional. It seems wishy-washy. Doubtlessly it conveys a lack of confidence and authority. Conversational hedges tend to do those things.
On the other hand, there are benefits to this sort of wishy-washiness. It smoothes the transitions between speakers in a conversation, letting your interlocutor know you’re basically done speaking without putting them immediately on the spot. The implication that you’re allowing them to “break in” on your sentence creates the impression that you’re slightly deferring to them, which can give the other person a greater sense of confidence in the interaction. (Is it really always bad to seem slightly deferential? In terms of building social relationships, it can actually be a positive thing!)
Above all, the conjunction-ended sentence offers a conversational cue that’s even more valuable in the age of phone conversations. Hopefully texting, Skype and FaceTime will eventually eliminate the need to ever, ever have an old-fashioned phone chat, but until then, we must sometimes struggle with the difficulty of conducting an interview or catching up with a relative sans any visual clues as to what’s going on in the conversation.
Ah, the awkward moment after you end a sentence, waiting for the person on the other end of the line to show any sign of responding. Without the ability to see the other person looking toward you for a rejoinder or nodding their head in agreement with what you’re saying, it’s difficult to know when you should be prepared to start speaking, or when you should offer the other person an opening to jump in. A lingering “soooo...” or even “but...” dangles the option of responding before the listener, but can be followed up on if said listener doesn’t bite.
Trust me, the awkward silences in my phone conversations have nearly vanished since I started using this approach. (Though it does occasionally leave my grandma very confused about whether I'm done talking. I fully admit this is a risk.)
Of course, this tactic is best for situations when you wish to emphasize approachability and social connection, not when you hope to radiate confidence and dominance. Endeavor to end your sentences firmly during job interviews, for example. But why can’t we end a sentence with “but” or “so” when we’re trying to smooth the flow of a casual conversation? Whether it’s starting a sentence with “so,” tossing in some “you knows” or “likes,” or even just trailing off with a “but, yeah...,” I’m in no hurry to condemn any verbal tic that keeps conversations going.