There’s an article in Seed entitled “So” and subtitled “The anatomy of a scientific staple” which purports to discuss the use of the word as a preface to scientific pronouncements in the classroom and, I presume, in conference talks as well. I thought perhaps the author was overanalyzing things, but there is this observation:
In the 1990s, Columbia University psychologist Stanley Schachter counted how often professors said “uh” and “um” in lectures and found that humanists said them more than social scientists, and natural scientists said them less frequently of all. Because such words mark places where a speaker is choosing what to say next, Schachter argued, natural scientists’ low hesitation rate underscored the hard facts they were communicating. “So” can be said to have the inverse relation for exactly the same reason. It relays a sense of accuracy and rigor. One doesn’t have to worry about what to say as much as when to say it. “So” is the organizing device for a logic-driven thought process.
I don’t fully agree with this. The delay does help you organize your thoughts; I’m not sure if the observation from the article is necessarily a fair comparison. Does a scientist use “um” rather than “so” when discussing topics in the humanities or social sciences?
Anyway, just a few days ago the Quantum Pontiff gave some empirical data on this; I had been tempted to comment on that but it kinda slipped away from me, but now I shall do so. It was my favorite word as well, when I started teaching. My experience lecturing was in the navy, and since the military is all about training, I was afforded the opportunity (if mandatory training can be considered an opportunity) to acquire and then improve my lecturing technique.
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