Recall, if you will, the time when one difference between the person on the street and the one trained in public speaking was that the average person would often be caught beginning a sentence or thought or response to a question with some innocuous utterance such as “Uh” or “you know”. They might also continue to pepper their conversation with additional “uhs” and “you know”s, apparently believing that any sound was preferable to silence.
Though not totally eradicated, superfluous words are significantly reduced in most TV and radio interviews and conversations in recent years. The occasional athlete may still include a number of “you know”s and “uhs” in answers to painfully inane questions about how he felt sinking the winning shot or putt. But for the most part, one can listen to interviews without wincing as much.
There is a new trend, however, in public utterances. And this tends to hold both for politicians, scientists, and scholarly trained persons being interviewed concerning topics of their area of expertise. The new trend is that after being asked a nice open-ended question designed to allow the respondent to wax eloquent the first word spoken in the answer well be, “So”.
“How does the new MOAB bomb change the way we deal with ISIS”?
“So, it was designed and is intended to not only do effective damage such as reaching tunnel or underground targets but it also serves as a psychological weapon.” [Hypothetical example]
What purpose does the introductory “So” serve in the answer? It acknowledges the legitimacy of the question in the first place. It seems to declare that what follows is indeed responsive to the question.
“So” can exist in language as an adjective, adverb or conjunction. (Some dictionaries even include pronoun and noun uses.) The “so” I am addressing is the conjuction designed to introduce subsequent thought or information.
Listen to NPR or one of the TV news interview shows over the course of several programs and days and you’ll discover that “So” is so common an introduction to an answer that it is used more than half the time. It has not yet become such a cliched use that it is distracting. Typically a responder will use it only at the beginning of an answer, not repeatedly throughout the explanation. This keeps it from becoming as annoying as “uh” and “you know” were for a number of years.