I so don’t say “so” like that
In my youth, it was common to use “so” as an intensifier in the following way: “I’m so excited / I’m so excited / I’m so… scared!” In certain respects, this usage is incorrect. Properly speaking, “so” should be followed by a clause beginning with “that” and describing the consequences of the degree to which you are experiencing the adjective. Classic example: “I’m so hungry that I could eat a horse.” Using “so” without a qualifier would, by analogy, intensify the adjective without bound: “I’m so hungry that anything is possible for me now.”
Ah, what innocent days those were! But it was all ruined when Chandler from Friends took things a step further. Rather than limiting the use of “so” to what one might call adjectives of experience (excited, scared, hungry), Chandler began using “so” as an intensifier for personal actions: “I’m so not going to that party.” I’ll admit that the door for such a usage was provided by the frequent use of past participles as the adjective of experience (excited, scared) — the appearance was that of a passive-voice construction. With that in mind, why not use the same structure for the active voice as well?
Why not, indeed? Oh, I know: because it’s fucking annoying. Yet I appear to be the only person who thinks this. Spending time with people younger than me, I learned something deeply disturbing: young people find this use of “so” to be completely unremarkable. I am old enough to remember that it was introduced by Friends, whereas for them it was always-already part of the available syntax.
Even more disturbing: for this usage to become so pervasive in such a short time, there must’ve been something convincing about it, a sense that it filled in a gap in the language. And yet it did not fill any gap. The constructions in which “so” was used as an unbounded intensifier were not in fact passive voice constructions, and so the analogy with active voice constructions is a false one.
How can I tell they’re not passive voice constructions, which is to say that the apparent past participles are acting as run-of-the-mill verbal adjectives rather than participles? The key is in the prepositions. Passive constructions use the preposition “by.” Returning to my examples, we would say, “I’m excited about… I’m scared of…” Adding another one: “I’m interested in….” Putting it differently: a passive construction is a reversal of an active one. Thus we would say: “cinema excites me,” with the passive equivalent being, “I am excited by cinema.” Again: “knitting interests me,” or passively, “I am interested by knitting.” Some external force (cinema, knitting) is the agent in these active/passive pairings, whereas in the more natural “I’m interested in knitting,” “interested” serves to describe my own internal state, not the action of knitting upon me.
In conclusion, if someone managed to combine this usage of “so” with the horrifying abomination of saying “natch” for “naturally” in one sentence, my very soul might explode.
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