Ask Language Log: So feminine?

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Brett Reynolds writes:

Over on English Language & Usage, the following question appeared:

Many Japanese textbooks of English mention the "feminine 'so'": the use of "so" for "very" is more typical of a feminine speaker. I don't think this is true in the US (I learned English living in Southern California and have now lived in the US for 10 years), but is it at all true in the UK? In other parts of the world?

I don't have access to a male/female tagged corpus. Would you be interested in following this up?

I don't have time this morning for a very elaborate investigation, but a small (one cup of coffee) Breakfast Experiment™ suggests that the use of so as an intensifier is indeed (statistically, not categorically) sex-associated. Looking at so with a half a dozen different following adjectives, in the LDC's conversational telephone speech transcripts, yields this:

WORD F # F "so _" # F "so _" % M # M "so _" #" M "so _" %
happy 1901 94 4.9% 1396 43 3.1%
sad 1936 244 12.6% 725 11 1.5%
interesting 6595 116 1.8% 3322 22 0.7%
big 11500 125 1.1% 9761 91 0.9%
stupid 1366 125 9.2% 1169 89 7.6%
funny 6881 637 9.3% 4072 162 4.0%

Thus those specific following adjectives are intensified with so 4.4% of the time by female speakers and 2.0% percent of the time by male speakers.

In comparison, very yields this:

WORD F # F "very _" # F "very _" % M # M "very _" #" M "very _" %
happy 1901 129 6.8% 1396 76 5.4%
sad 1936 144 7.4% 725 44 6.1%
interesting 6595 572 8.7% 3322 431 13.0%
big 11500 200 1.6% 9761 118 1.2%
stupid 1366 8 0.6% 1169 7 0.6%
funny 6881 142 2.1% 4072 120 2.9%

Female speakers precede these adjectives with very 4.0% of the time, compared with 3.9% of the time for male speakers.

Thus a first crude guess would be that female speakers use "so" as an intensifier about twice as often as male speakers do. But there are serious differences among adjectives, so that a much larger sample would be appropriate; we should look at the effects of age; there's potentially a difference between "so X that Y" and plain "so X"; geography may play a role; there's the question of whether the "so" is stressed or otherwise given a marked pronunciation; and so on.

(The transcripts that I used are from the Switchboard, Fisher Part 1, and Fisher Part 2 collections.)

Update — there are of course several other ways in which the use of so is developing: as a modifier of verbs, in phrases of the form "so not X", etc.  There's a worthwhile survey in Mai Kuha, "Investigating the Spread of “so” as an Intensifier:  Social and Structural Factors", TLF 48, 2004.



50 Comments

  1. John Lawler said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 9:55 am

    In correcting student papers, I found so used alone as an intensifier quite often, almost always in papers by female students. Can't give you numbers, but I was surprised on the rare occasions when a male student used it in a paper.

    I noticed them especially, because I was trying to teach the students how correlative constructions like [so AdjP/such a(n) NP ... that S] work, and that their readers were entitled to expect an explanatory S down the line after a so is deployed, and might grumble if they didn't get it.

    In other words, I'd already told them not to use so as an intensifier, and they did it anyway. My impression is it was intended to indicate high stress and pitch on so, and possibly longer duration as well. Of course that only works for cooperative readers who have similar Mind's Ears.

  2. Richard said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 10:04 am

    I know many Sociolinguists in Canada have been tracking this, and it's exhibiting the typical esh shaped graph of a change in progress (with women leading the change, as usual). If you look at kids, it seems fairly gender neutral now.

  3. jfruh said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 10:21 am

    I think there's a pretty profound difference between a descriptive "Women are statistically more likely to use 'so' as an intensifier," which is what these stats give us, and a semi-presecriptive "'So' for 'very' is something women say," which is what the (I assume) introductory or intermediate English learners will probably get out of reading this in a textbook. Even if women use the construction more often, I am reasonably certain that most English speakers wouldn't process a man doing so as wrong or ungrammatical or transgressive in some way.

    I know there are some languages where there *are* words or phrases that are supposed to be exclusively used by speakers of one gender or another — is Japanese one of them?

    [(myl) Traditional Japanese usage certainly prescribed certain words as having male and female versions. See e.g. Janet Shibamoto, "The Womanly Woman", in Philips et al., Eds., Language, gender and sex in comparative perspective:

    I've been told by younger Japanese that this difference is going away, or perhaps has already evaporated for many in the younger generation.]

  4. Rod Johnson said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 10:35 am

    I think of it as feminine too. Not necessarily actually a matter of female gender, though, but some kind of "feminizing" style, kind of like dotting your i's with circles.

    In a study I did long ago in grad school, I looked at how words like little and kitten were pronounced in a corpus of interviews with high school students (Penny Eckert's data). My methods were extremely slipshod, but I did come away with the sense that women were more likely to have pronunciations like [lɪɾəɫ kɪɾən] and men [lɪdɫ̩ kɪʔn̩]. But the correlation wasn't strong, and there was a lot of variation. Just about everyone I asked, though, agreed impressionistically that one set was "girlier" than the other (or sometimes, in the case of male speakers, "gayer." I ended up thinking that it was more a matter of adopting a stereotypically "girly" style than actual speaker gender–which then raises the question of why that style is labeled "girly" in the first place.

  5. Jeff Carney said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 10:38 am

    To the extent that my memory is accurate, my experience after grading literally thousands of essays matches John Lawler's. (Though I could easily believe my perceptions are guided by other forces.)

    Since my college recruits a lot of international students from Asia, I seem also to recall seeing the intensive so in their writing as well, regardless of the writer's gender. I've always assumed that this was a result of conversing with college-age Americans, but now I wonder if there is more to it.

    I gave up "correcting" the intensive so many years ago, so consider these very subjective data points.

  6. Neuroskeptic said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 11:03 am

    Speaking as a British English speaker, "so" has American female connotations rather than female ones as such.

    The phrase that springs to my mind is "that's like, *so*, -" adjective, spoken in a 'Valley Girl' accent. I suspect it has the same associations for other people. It's a bit of a stereotype.

    On the other hand "so" is commonly used to mean "remarkably" as in "that's so expensive" – the implication being not just that it is very expensive, but that it is more expensive than it ought to be.

  7. Joyce Melton said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 11:16 am

    How about the combination "so not"? As in "I am so not convinced." This appears to be not uncommon for young women, gays and children but is not usually spoken by adult straight males.

    I do hear guys using it but mostly self-consciously or ironically as when pretending to an attitude they don't actually feel.

    Anyone done research on this aspect?

  8. Tim Martin said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

    @jfruh and Dr. Liberman: Japanese as it is spoken today involves obvious differences between male and female speech, though I was surprised to see the examples Dr. Liberman provided (via Janet Shibamoto). I think those examples must be dated by now. I'm conversationally fluent in Japanese, and I lived there for a few years, and I don't think I've ever heard someone of either gender refer to water as "ohiya." Same thing with "okookoo" for pickles. Some of the other examples are good, but there is still large overlap between men and women on items like, say, oishii and umai.

    Rather, if I were going to give examples of gendered speech in Japanese, it would be differences in particle use, whether or not the copula is omitted (it is often grammatically unnecessary because it is understood from context), and differences in which pronouns people use.

    That said, many of these so-called "gendered" differences, I have noticed, are not so much about gender as about assertiveness. If a female wishes to be more assertive in her speech, she will speak using more masculine language, and it will not be considered weird that she used "male speech." I think this shows that gender is, at best, an indirect dividing line between the two types of speech. Still, there are a few gendered speech tokens that seldom are used by the other side. The male pronouns "boku" and "ore" are very seldom used by women, and the intensifier particle "wa" is very seldom used by men (I've only heard it once from the mouth of a man, and that was on a J-drama, so who knows why they wrote the dialogue that way).

    Anyway, long answer short, I wouldn't say these differences are evaporating, though I hear they are less defined than they were in the past. Still, gender seems to be tied up with assertiveness as variables that dictate how Japanese people speak.

  9. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

    @ Rod Johnson: That's interesting! I would expect exactly the opposite for kitten, i.e. tap for men, glottal stop for women. But that may be my UK bias.

  10. Jon Weinberg said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

    @jfruh: You may be interested in the discussion at "The perils of mixing romance with language learning", 11/7/2007.

    [(myl) See also "Nationality, gender and pitch", 11/12/2007.]

  11. Russell said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

    Robin Lakoff made a similar claim in Language and Woman's Place (p. 47-8, footnote). In part:

    "Within the lexicon itself, there seems to be a parallel phenomenon to tag-question usage [a great topic of debate in the decades following LWP -Russell], which I refrain from discussing in the body of the text because the facts are controversial and I do not understand them fully. The intensive so, used where purists would insist upon an absolute superlative, heavily stressed, seems more characteristic of women's language than of men's, though it is found in the latter, particularly in the speech of male academics. Consider, for instance, the following sentences:

    (a) I feel so unhappy!
    (b) That movie made me so sick"

    If I read Lakoff right, she's excluding cases of so with a following that-clause, as in I was so unhappy that I stayed in my room all day. (A reasonable thing to do, as there isn't really a good alternative to the so-that structure.)

    I did some searches on the portion of the Fisher corpus that I happened to have on hand (with raw numbers for the adjectives as comparison to MYL's, since our corpora are not identical). The numbers are small enough that one probably can't conclude too much.

    [tables previewed weird, so I'm doing without...]

    Word / F-count / M-count
    happy / 1679 / 1235
    sad / 2617 / 1429
    interesting / 5528 / 4514
    big / 10690 / 8662
    stupid / 987 / 716
    funny / 5842 / 3431

    Here are the counts for "so _ that"
    Word / F so _ that / M so _ that
    happy / 6 / 0
    sad / 14 / 3
    interesting / 3 / 2
    big / 6 / 5
    stupid / 9 / 1
    funny / 27 / 8

    For fun, I tried "just so ADJ" (which, btw, rules out a that-clause, at least for me)
    word / F / M
    happy / 5 / 1
    sad / 32 / 3
    interesting / 7 / 1
    big / 8 / 4
    stupid / 13 / 5
    funny / 34 / 11

    I also had an intuition that things would be different with negation, but the pattern was basically non-existent.

  12. Russell said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

    @Tim Martin:

    Regarding ohiya, I've heard it, but primarily among waitstaff (I lived in Osaka). When I tried to use it at a restaurant, I got giggles (though whether it was because I was a customer or for some other socio-linguistic reason, I don't know) – but I did get water.

    Your ideas about the gendered-ness of speech is very close to Elinor Ochs's "indirect indexing", in case you're interested. She's written a bit on Japanese, as well.

  13. languageandhumor said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

    "So" does seem more female in use, but I think you'd hear plenty of young men saying after, e.g., a basketball-game elbow to someone's nose: "Dude, I am SO sorry," even several decades ago in the U.S. It puts more genuine feeling into it than "I am very sorry."

    Unlike "she's so pretty" / "she's very pretty," there seems some difference between "that's so typical of him" and "that's very typical of him." "Very typical" is just a declaration; "so typical" is an indictment, even more with "SO typical." Again, you're going from generic statements of opinion to expressing your feelings.

  14. Ellen K. said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

    I'm puzzled by Neuroskeptic's comment. Which seems to be treating "so" meaning "very" and "so" meaning "remarkable" as categorically different. Are there uses of "so" before an adjective where it means "very" while clearly not meaning "remarkably"?

  15. Mark F. said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 1:27 pm

    "I'm So Tired" and "You Are So Beautiful" are both songs associated to male singers. (Since anecdote is so much more reliable than statistics.)

  16. Doreen said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 1:30 pm

    ISTR the construction "That is soooo …" being used a lot in the TV sitcom _Friends_ (1994-2004) — by all the characters. Here's one utterance by Ross, a male character:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qROV6a4xBmM

    I was never a big enough fan of that show to want to spend more time searching through YouTube now, but I seem to recall that they extended its use to "That's soooo [me/you/him etc.]" — again, by male and female characters — to mean something like, "That's [me/you/him] all over" or "That's absolutely typical of [me/you/him]".

  17. grackle said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 1:31 pm

    I think it is undoubtedly true that there are at least some English words that are primarily used by female speaker. An informal survey, undertaken over many years, consisting of a corpus of overheard conversations between my adult daughter and my wife (her mother) has led me to understand that the greatest superlative in the female lexicon is the word "cute." Examples: "He's so cute." "That's a cute outfit." "She is so cute." "That is so cute." (May refer to almost anything- a flower arrangement, a chair, an article of clothing, a statement by a young child, etc.) It is interesting that "so" is often used with "cute" as an intensifier in these sorts of statements.

  18. Brett said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

    @grackle: It's true that "cute" seems to have a wider range of application for females than males. As the latter, I don't think I could use "cute" to describe something without conveying an impression that what I'm referring to is somehow diminutive. For some applications, this is no problem. I have no trouble using "cute" to describe the appearance or behavior of young children. However, using it to describe an adult would probably come across as rather patronizing. And I couldn't call a chair "cute" unless it was physically quite small. I suspect for females, the implication of diminutiveness is still somewhat present in their usage, but it is much less pronounced.

  19. Eric P Smith said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 1:56 pm

    I don’t hear so as an intensifier (or a degree modifier) at all. I hear it as a marker of an exclamation. “I’m very sorry” is a propositional statement and may be true or false. “I’m so sorry!” is an exclamation (I would always use the exclamation mark) with much the same meaning as “How sorry I am!” or “That’s such a pity!” As such it may be honestly or dishonestly uttered, but it is not true or false.

    languageandhumor observes that “I’m so sorry” expresses more feeling than “I’m very sorry”. To my ears and mind, that is due to its non-propositional nature.

    I’d be interested to know to what extent so has changed in my lifetime from a marker of an exclamation into a degree modifier. Quite a lot, I suspect. It wouldn’t be easy to measure, as the same utterance may be heard by one hearer as a propositional statement and by another hearer as an exclamation.

    I associate “I’m very sorry” with muted body language. I associate “I’m so sorry!” with hands up, head thrown back, eyes rolled. And, yes, women.

    I’m British, male, 62, old-fashioned.

  20. Kenny said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

    @Tim Martin and others about the Japanese examples
    I'm with Tim about the words in the table and what kinds of Japanese speech is gendered. The astonishing thing about that chart from Janet Shibamoto is that none of those words are gendered in a meaningful way. Males are much more likely to use the "male forms" (and it is more acceptable for them to), but the "female forms" would not get you pegged as female: absolutely everyone can use them. That is not the case for the features Tim mentioned.

    As Tim mentioned, the differences are more related to personality/attitude and social expectations, though instead of assertiveness I would associate them with gruffness, rudeness, or politeness. Gender comes into play with "traditional Japanese values" , since "good" women are stereotypically expected not to be even remotely gruff or undignified. The phenomenon ties in well with assertiveness, though, because (probably in all cultures) assertive people can get away with behavior outside the norm. Some of the "male forms" are quite crude, but mizu and tsukemono are neutral, while the "female" equivalents of those words are inobtrusive and highly respectful. When I was in Japan, people told me my Japanese felt very mellow (apparently you can sound like someone who doesn't get angry or emotional), and even children would tell me it was strange to hear me use certain words because "I wouldn't say them". I was told that using umai didn't fit people's expectations of my personality.

    —about Japanese textbooks and so
    My highschool Japanese textbook and worksheets (Ima series) misused so in the English translations all the time. Nearly every instance of totemo ("very") was translated as so. I had to explain to the teacher and some of the non-native English speakers that so required/expected an elaboration, and that it is only appropriate on its own in a situation of very strong emotion in which the elaboration would be unnecessary or empty (I was so mad [that I didn't know what I'd do]; I'm so sorry [that words cannot express it]). Maybe whoever is teaching English or doing the translating in Japan is projecting Japanese cultural factors by assuming that "female" English is neutral/polite English, just as "female" Japanese tends to be.

  21. Ray Girvan said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

    @Kenny: Nearly every instance of totemo ("very") was translated as so

    I wonder if this is related to the idea I've noticed in many ESL texts: the belief that there's some extraordinarily complicated ruleset applying to the use of "very". It's one of my pet peeves about ESL teaching that it often teaches actively counterfactual usage conditions concerning "very" and "extreme adjectives" (for example, that "very ancient" is wrong). See Very extreme adjectives.

  22. Ray Girvan said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 4:18 pm

    @Eric P Smith: I associate “I’m so sorry!” with hands up, head thrown back, eyes rolled.

    Since Father Ted, I associate it with this.

  23. D.O. said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

    Warning: indecorous joke ahead.
    There is a deficit of male constructions "so X" is because they prefer to say "so fucking X".

  24. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

    Perhaps like neuroskeptic, I was put in mind of Moon Unit Zappa's voice saying "I am SO sure." Googling up the lyrics to "Valley Girl" (released 30 years ago!) reminded me it also included Moon Unit saying "so bitchin'," "so grody," "so gross," and "so awesome." There are or were, however, strong overlaps between (stereotypically female) Valspeak and (stereotypically male) Surfer-Dude-Speak, so you'd need a good sex-coded Southern California '80's teen corpus to see how strongly sex-linked Moon Unit's usage of the "so" construction really was in sociolinguistic context.

  25. Henning Makholm said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 6:39 pm

    Anything interesting to say about "so" as a generic intensifying sentence adverbial, as in "I'm so not going back there", "They have so lost me as a customer", "I so hate it when that happens", etc? My impression is that that's a bit more gender linked — in association if perhaps not in actual usage — than when "so" modifies an adjective.

    Note that it seems to be syntactically and semantically ambiguous whether this sentence-adverbial "so" or the more mainstream "so"+adjective is at play in contexts such as "I am so sure".

    Also, compare and contrast "I so love you" with "I love you so".

  26. J. Goard said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 9:09 pm

    In natural discourse, it might be quite difficult to separate the many tokens of [so ADJ] that are part of conditionals where the result is implicit:

    A: You gonna order the extra large?
    B: Yeah, I guess so. The kids look so hungry.

    That sure seems like it could be a conditional. It could be an intensifier as well — as a Northern Californian speaker, I'd easily use "hella" or "hecka" there, intensifier "so" feeling not so much too feminine as to SoCal.

  27. Joe Rembetikoff said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 9:29 pm

    Is it just me, or does even "very" seem a bit formal in some of these examples? If I was being real informal I might say "hella" too, but I think "real(ly)" is most natural.
    And as a 20 year old boy I wouldn't use "so" in this way unless I drew it out for somewhat exaggerated emphasis or in a serious context repeated it (I'm so, so sorry). Although there are probably exceptions. "That's so (adj., not proper name)!" is so very feminine.

  28. Victor Mair said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 9:32 pm

    Whenever I would say something like "lěng sǐle" 冷死了 ("really cold", lit. "cold to death," "so cold I could die") or rèsǐle 热死了 ("really hot," lit. "hot to death," "so hot I could die"), my wife would criticize me for sounding too feminine. She would rebuke me, saying, "Men don't talk like that! It makes you sound like a woman."

    It really annoyed and embarrassed my wife to hear me use such feminine speech mannerisms. But what was I to do? I learned most of my spoken Mandarin listening to her interacting with her two sisters, her mother, and her many female friends. So I had to work hard to avoid feminine intensifiers and other feminine speech mannerisms, and to substitute for them neutral or male equivalents.

  29. David Donnell said,

    March 27, 2012 @ 12:39 am

    This anecdotal observation has been stuck in my mind for a year or so:

    Having lived with a South African woman a couple of decades ago here in NYC, I picked up a usage from her that I considered exotic at the time: I began politely saying "Thank you so much" instead of "Thank you very much" (the latter being more familiar to me as a native Missouribonics speaker).

    Although I was initially aware that it might sound a bit exotic/elitist (if not effeminate) to other Americans, I still say it to this day. However, I have recently become aware, it is now a quite common usage.

    Google hits, FWIW:

    "thank you so much": 160,000,000
    "thank you very much": 146,000,000

  30. briggslaw said,

    March 27, 2012 @ 1:05 am

    @grackle:

    'Special' here in the upper US Midwest is a word like 'cute:' not a part of male vocabulary when used as a rough synonym for 'fine' or 'excellent.' And if someone up here said 'That's so special' I would be 100% sure the speaker was female.

  31. briggslaw said,

    March 27, 2012 @ 1:06 am

    Or a gay guy really camping it up.

  32. Kathrine Dulac said,

    March 27, 2012 @ 1:45 am

    From Nancy Bonvillain\'s \"Language, Culture, and Communication\" she notes that, \"women typically use more polite speech than do men, characterized by a high frequency of honorific (showing respect for the person to whom you are talking to, formal stylistic markers), and softening devices such as

    hedges and questions.\"

    Sociolinguists try to explain why there is a greater frequency of the use of polite speech from women than from men. In our society it is socially acceptable for a man to be forward and direct his assertiveness to control the actions of others. However, society has devalued these speech patterns

    when it is utilized by women. From historical recurrence, it has appeared

    that women have had a secondary role in society relative to that of the male. Therefore, it has been (historically) expected from a women to \"act like a lady\" and \"respect those around you.\" It reflects the role of the inferior status being expected to respect the superior. In Frank and Anshen\'s \"Language and the Sexes\", they note that boys, \"are permitted, even

    encouraged, to talk rough, cultivate a deep \"masculine\" voice and, if they

    violate the norms of correct usage or of polite speech, well \"boys will be boys,\" although, peculiarly, it is much less common that \"girls will be girls\" Fortunately, these roles are becoming more of a stereotype and less of a reality. However, the trend of expected polite speech from the female continues to remain. This is a prime example of how society plays an important part on the social function of the language.

    Honorifics: linguistic markers that signal respect to the person you are speaking to:

    \"Hey ma, fix my jacket\"

    Mom, could you please do me a favor, and fix my jacket?\"

    Source : http://www.proz.com/forum/linguistics/8213-do_men_and_women_really_speak_differently.html

  33. LDavidH said,

    March 27, 2012 @ 3:01 am

    @David Donnell: I would have thought those two expressions conveyed different meanings: "Thank you very much" is quite factual, spoken when somebody has done what I expected of them (whether big or small), whereas "Thank you so much!" implies I really am very grateful to somebody who has gone above and beyond the call of duty, as it were. It's more emotional, and I can't think of any situation where they might be interchangeable.
    I am a 45-year old male ESL speaker with English wife living in the UK, in case anybody was wondering.

  34. Neuroskeptic said,

    March 27, 2012 @ 5:28 am

    Ellen K : "Which seems to be treating "so" meaning "very" and "so" meaning "remarkable" as categorically different. Are there uses of "so" before an adjective where it means "very" while clearly not meaning "remarkably"?"

    Here's how I see it – Bill Gates is very rich. He's not 'so rich'. But if Bill Gates were spotted driving some old crappy car, someone might say "Why is Bill Gates driving that, when he's so rich?"

  35. John F said,

    March 27, 2012 @ 9:28 am

    @ jfruh No wonder when our Japanese teacher told me to ask a girl in the class if I could accompany her home that she refused. I had been saying tabemasu instead of kuumasu and she must have thought I wasn't manly enough!

  36. Elise said,

    March 27, 2012 @ 9:52 am

    @Ray Girvan, my internationally adopted kids still struggle with the distinction between "very" and "really." They frequently say things like, "Thank you really much." "Very" is correct more often, but kind of formal for kids their age.

  37. Ellen K. said,

    March 27, 2012 @ 10:08 am

    @Neuroskeptic: I don't see how that answers my question.

  38. Keith said,

    March 27, 2012 @ 10:38 am

    I admit that phrases like "I am sooooo not happy with that" sound emphatically feminine to my ear.

    My son has picked up far too many expressions like this over the past seven years. He might have picked this up from babysitters and his mostly female schoolteachers, though I hear his male school friends using similar expressions. This makes me think that while it sounds feminine to me, maybe there is not a clear masculine/feminine separation, or at least not among children of his own age (he will turn 12 this summer). Maybe from the age of 12 or 13, with more peer pressure to adopt more and more outwardly masculine behaviour, his phrasing would change.

    I have to admit that I try to shape his vocabulary and phrasing… while I don't object to him speaking like that with his friends, I tell him that when he's talking with me he should speak like an English boy, and not like an American girl. ;-)

    K.

  39. Mark F. said,

    March 27, 2012 @ 11:23 am

    I am puzzled that the "so not happy with that" construction strikes people as so strongly feminine. I use it. I guess there probably is a gender difference in frequency, assuming Mark's preliminary test held up. But I hadn't noticed it.

    Then again, I'm ideologically opposed to the cultivation specifically male and female vocabulary, so I'm probably biased not to see it when it's there.

  40. Mark F. said,

    March 27, 2012 @ 11:38 am

    It also occurs to me that some variations in word frequency between males and females may have more to do with what people choose to say than the way they choose to say it. I suspect that women are interested in expressing the concept of cuteness more often than men, so it would be natural that they'd use that word more often. I don't know if women use intensifiers in general more than men, but if they did then that could explain a difference in intensive 'so'.

  41. Mark F. said,

    March 27, 2012 @ 11:41 am

    D'oh. Just re-read the table and realized Mark tested for, and rejected, my hypothesis on general use of intensives. I now remember being aware of that when I first read the post. Oh well.

  42. Mr Punch said,

    March 27, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

    I'm about Eric P. Smith's age (though American) and I agree with him about the shift of "so" from an exclamatory expression to a more general intensifier. (Kenny and others also note this.) When did the shift begin? Well, it could have been an exclamation when the Chiffons sang "He's So Fine" in (IIRC) 1963, but not I think in the late '70s the Cars (guys, mind you) could describe their best friend's girl as "so fine."

  43. Charly said,

    March 28, 2012 @ 3:21 am

    Searching through my texts, the most common use of "so" is as phrase-initial interrupter/ topic changer. "So I am sipping a cocktail" "so yeah, I sort of feel divorced" "So I'm going to [location]…"

    It was a male texting to me who said "las Vegas is so waaaaaarm"

    Also spotted a male use of ""why do you tempt me so?"

    And the best illustration of the difference: my lament that "boys suck so hard" takes on a rather different meaning if you replace "so" with "very," creating the impression that I am electronically communicating with the dominant homosexual community far more often than I am.

  44. Charly said,

    March 28, 2012 @ 3:24 am

    Also these examples seem to illustrate culture warriors' suspicions that youths today threaten marriage, booze too much, and debauch in Vegas. "Soooooo true!" ;)

  45. Terry Collmann said,

    March 28, 2012 @ 8:46 am

    "Sociolinguists in Canada have been tracking this …"

    Shouldn't that be "So-sociolinguists"?

    David Donnell, "Thank you so much" sounds to me (late 50s Southern English) a very English upper-class thing to say

  46. Ted said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 3:44 pm

    @Charly: I read "why do you tempt me so?" as "why do you tempt me to such an extent?" — i.e., to the extent that you do in fact tempt me. So [no pun intended] it's more of a conventional case of so = thus than a case of so = [intensifier].

    @MarkF: Similarly, in "I'm So Tired," John sings:
    &#160&#160&#160&#160&#160I'm so tired/I haven't slept a wink
    &#160&#160&#160&#160&#160I'm so tired/My mind is on the blink etc.
    I think there's an implied "that" at the line break, so this too is the conventional case.

    In "The Word," by contrast, the lyric is "It's so fine/It's sunshine." There, where the entire predicate of so is omitted, it's closer to "very." Likewise with "You Are So Beautiful" and Cyndi Lauper's album title She's So Unusual, as well as the Cars lyric.

  47. Ted said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

    Apologies for the html code – I was attempting to indent the quotation, and it looked fine in the preview.

  48. Mark F. said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 8:04 pm

    Ted — I don't think so. At least, "I'm so tired that I haven't slept a wink" is a little odd. It works for the second pair of lines, I'll grant.

  49. Alan Shaw said,

    April 13, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

    Yeah, Ted, "I haven't slept a wink" is the CAUSE of "I'm so tired". Certainly no "that" implied.

    But this whole discussion is so last year.

  50. Jes said,

    May 21, 2012 @ 2:42 am

    In India, the sentence "Thank you so much" is very common, and is spoken by both male and female speakers.

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