Speech So, imagine that there’s this odd verbal tic of most scientists in the US. They like to start sentences and paragraphs with the word “so” even if they aren’t drawing conclusions from discussions that went before. Back in January, The Celestial Monochord investigated this phenomenon, but it has been brought to light again by Uncertain Principles in a nascent discussion about common verbal tics of scientists.
The list so far:

  • So, …
  • … is left as an exercise to the reader.
  • In the limit of large / small …
  • For large / small values of …
  • orders of magnitude
  • canonical
  • cutoff
  • to a first-order approximation / to first order
  • trivial solution

I start sentences with “So…” all the time, and never realized I was doing it. So now I’m wondering, what other verbal tics do I have because of my choice of careers? Here are some potential candidates:

  • … at a steady state …
  • The expectation value of …
  • … highly non-optimal …
  • … at equilibrium …
  • That’s a forbidden transition.

Any others? Other than a disconcerting tendency to wander away from a conversation in mid-sentence, my speech is mostly normal. At least I think it is. My graduate students may disagree with this assessment.

[tags] language is a virus, science, phraseology [/tags]

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4 Responses to So….

  1. I especially agree with the “orders of magnitude” example, but I’d also add the following:

    “accurate” and “precise” (with careful distinction between the two!)
    “doesn’t scale linearly” (I use this when referring to the difficulty in raising children – I have three)
    “context switch” (referring to my difficulty in switching between research projects)
    “increasing entropy” (kids again)
    “activation barrier” (getting myself motivated to mow the yard)

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  2. Sean Bryan says:

    “it’s not clear” is another phrase I hear and use from time to time. As in “It’s not clear why [insert strange thing] happens in this case.”

    The rest of these on that list…so true!

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  3. Eva says:

    I’ve noticed that after doing tons of overnight incubations in the lab, I started to use the term “overnight” in casual conversation, instead of “the whole night”.
    “We had to stay in the airport overnight.”
    “I accidentally left the book on the balcony overnight.”

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  4. Brooks Moses says:

    I first noticed that I was starting a lot of sentences with “So” when someone mentioned it as a common quirk of Microsoft employees. (Raymond Chen of “The Old New Thing”, maybe, in this post. Or perhaps this comment thread on Larry Osterman’s blog which mentions it.) So I don’t think it’s something that comes of a science career, except insofar as programming falls under that umbrella.

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