On an old episode of Saturday Night Live, LeBron James stands behind a podium. “I was the youngest player in the NBA to score 1,000 points in one season,” he says. He’s about to be upstaged.
Kristin Wiig pops up in front of him, twirling her hair. “I was the youngest player in the NBA too, so …” she says. “I was 11 and a half and I scored 10,000 points in one game, so …”
Wiig’s character, Penelope, compulsively one-upped the people around her with exaggerations and lies about how she’d done all the stuff they’d done, only better. And she often ended her sentences with the word “so.”
The end of a sentence is not a natural place to put a “so.” “So” is a conjunction—its very nature is to be between things. Penelope’s “so”s are left hanging—one hand grasping the clause before it, the other reaching out for the friend it’s used to being there, only to find a fistful of air. And yet, I feel like I’m seeing and hearing this more and more lately—a “so” with nothing to follow it. I find myself doing it; I notice my friends and coworkers doing it; I see it on Twitter and even in articles.
I’ve heard this end-of-sentence “so” called a “dangling so” and a “trailing so,” but Geoffrey Raymond, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who studies conversation, calls it a “turn-final so.” In conversation, we take turns speaking. A turn can be as short as one word—“Okay”—or many sentences long. And while the word “so” would usually indicate some more words to follow, a turn-final so comes at the end of a turn, when someone’s done talking.