Last updated: 23 june, 2009 - 10:03 GMT

Location, Location

About this programme by Peter Day

Big apologies this week to all our listeners. Either you will hear in this Global Business what I am writing about here, and it will be irritating. Or you won’t, and the programme (about how the idea and sense of location is revolutionising the computing industry) will be very slightly misrepresenting the way high tech people talk.

I very much hope that the interviews in this Global Business will have one word ruthlessly edited out. It’s the innocent little word “so”. Technology people have lapsed into the terrible habit of starting the absolutely every answer to absolutely every question with the word “so”.

Maybe the producers (Neil Koenig and Richard Berenger) will leave in the “so”s. But on behalf of the listener, no thanks if they do.

I am not sure where these “so”s come from. I first encountered them at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab in Cambridge Mass. nearly 10 years ago. I then thought it was just an academic affectation, but it seems to have caught on across the whole high technology universe.


What does a “so” at the end of every answer mean? Well – since it makes no sense in ordinary language – I will guess that it is where somebody, an academic or a business researcher, has done a lot of work on an abstruse subject that needs to be condensed and contracted in order to explain things to dumb inquirers such as me (and, dear listener) you.

Thus the academic or researcher does a lot of work mentally preparing himself or herself for an encounter with a lay audience.

And when asked a question, that “so” is the moment when the respondee mentally riffles through the battery of prepared answers before whisking out the one–I’ve–prepared–earlier that seems to be most suitable.

It is said that President JF Kennedy used to buy vital seconds to marshal his thoughts when asked a difficult question, by prefacing his answer with the formula: “Let me say in answer to that one..” and then launching into the reply his quick brain had had time to come up with. (Try this; it works.)

This “so” business is presumably some kind of modernisation on the old thinking device of sentences prefixed with “well”. That has the habit of sounding kind of relaxed, less professional, more colloquial about the exchange. Skilled radio editors have excised millions of “wells” from pre–recorded broadcast interviews over the decades, to prevent listeners tearing their hair with frustration. “So” is the new candidate, and it is even more annoying.


I’m no expert in where these things come from, but “so” may have something in comment with the habit that started –what–– 30 years ago among the Valley Girls in Los Angeles: intruding “like” into every ordinary expression: “I was, like..” It has little to do with the Valley Girls’ elongated “so–o–o–oh”, as in “so–o–oh boring!”

“Like” was a formula that rapidly went all round the English speaking work, if you were a certain age. It was self expression for people who were slightly afraid of being heard to express themselves.

Anyway, “so” is an irritating habit that indicates (at least to me) that the respondee is trying to come up with a tried and tested response, not a real answer to a real (if ignorant?) question.

So what? Well all I can say, if you have been spared (by deft editing) the torrent of “so”s I had to endure while doing the interviews that make up the programme, you’re the lucky one.

And if by some chance you haven’t been, you will be able to hear what I mean.

Previous updates -June

  • Social entrepreneurs from Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt who are all innovating and confronting poverty in new ways.

  • A look at a hugely successful childrens TV series and it's boss Magnus Scheving.

  • No business school has a more daunting image than Harvard, 100 years old last year.


  • Intel is going to appeal against both the judgement that it broke European Union monopoly rules and an eye-watering fine.

  • Men got us into this current economic mess, maybe women can get us out of it.

  • An entrepreneur's thoughts on a way of weaning motorists off their reliance on oil.

  • The industry that changed the world – the US automobile business – is in deep trouble. Peter Day finds out why.


  • A look at the edges of Europe and asking whether joining the EU, or in the case of Iceland wanting to, was worth it?

  • A look at the edges of Europe and asking whether joining the EU, or in the case of Iceland wanting to, was worth it?

  • A look at the edges of Europe and asking whether joining the EU, or in the case of Iceland wanting to, was worth it?


  • Sydney Finkelstein, co-author of Think Again - Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions and How to Keep It From Happening to You.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.