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7 Comments

  • Fascinating, as always, Gill. I wonder if the slogan “You’re SO Money Supermarket” — apparently from a supermarket chain called MoneySupermarket — is a play on adjectival money (“successful”, “attractive”), as in the film Swingers: “You’re so money and you don’t even know it.”

  • Love the idea of teams of lexicographers working round the clock monitoring changing patterns of use. “Quick, we’ve spotted a shift in the meaning of ‘safe’. Get a crack team of lexicographers on it right away.” In my dreams…
    One of my favourite ‘so + noun’ combos is ‘so last season/year’ as in ‘Tribal prints are so last season, now it’s all about neutrals’. Obviously this has come from the world of fashion journalism, but a quick Google search shows it being used in all kinds of contexts, usually – I suspect – tongue in cheek.

  • A favourite of mine (from a US sitcom I think) was where a daughter responds to her mother’s inquiries about her love life with: ‘This conversation is so not happening’. Gill’s closing point about dictionary labels (‘American’, ‘informal’ etc) and pragmatic notes (‘used mainly by young people’) is an important one. These devices were always a blunt instrument – the space limitations of printed dictionaries made it difficult to say anything very precise or subtle. We need to figure out better ways of describing aspects of vocabulary and usage which are not ‘unmarked’. As always, the opportunities now available to us, thanks to abundant corpus data and unlimited space, aren’t always matched by the resources needed to take full advantage of them.

  • Michael, I have always wished that we could have a label that just said ‘marked’; meaning ‘There’s something going on here, use this word with care’. The opposite of subtle and precise.

  • I am so a fan of this use of ‘so’! I’m pretty sure I remember first noticing it in the US sitcom Friends, which aired from 1994 to 2004. I now use it myself, but always in a ‘marked’, humorous way.

  • Liz: I laughed out loud at your first comment. But yes, I meant to emphasise how difficult it is for any online dictionary to be up to date. Your delightful Ghostbusters scenario is unlikely, because of the inevitable time-lag before lexicographers get analysable corpora from ‘today’.

    What is needed is the money to fund a true monitor corpus – lexicographers would need software that they could train to scan a selection of electronically available data each day and indicate all changes in the frequency/collocations/’pragmatics’ etc of any word or phrase, based on comparisons with the current dictionary corpus. Lexicographers then scroll through all the results and decide how to update their online resources. A girl can dream…

  • Elizabeth: You use this ‘so’ in a ‘marked, humorous way’. And Liz says that ’e.g Tiger prints are so last season’ is used tongue-in-cheek, esp in the world of fashion journalism. I’ve also looked at numerous examples of this emphatic ‘so’ in the American corpus COCA, and found that many of them are tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating, ironic, or funny by reason of their intertextual referencing (e.g to the sitcom Friends – thanks Elizabeth). Pragmatic labels like ‘often used humorously’ are not very helpful, because they don’t tell us how to distinguish a jokey use from a serious one; we would need to draw on a wider context and knowledge of the source.

    So to address one of Michael’s points, what would an online dictionary do (if it had the money) to describe ‘marked’ aspects of vocabulary and use to take advantage of the lifting of space limitations?