"So Fun"? "So Not There"? So Icky!
by Marti Smiley Childs and Jeff March

Two young business associates overheard during the lunch hour at a popular downtown restaurant were discussing their company's upcoming conference in Santa Cruz, California.

"Oh, you'll love it," one told the other. "The boardwalk amusement area is so fun!"

So fun? If you have a reverence for the language, you know that sounds wrong, although perhaps you're not sure why. But even if that construction somehow violates a grammatical rule, so what? The two business associates obviously understood each other.

That may be, but grammatical rules exist for an important reason: to serve as the architectural framework of the language. Rules are necessary to prevent anarchy. In baseball, rules specify that a batter who hits a home run must run the bases and tag each one in order to score. Why? Advancing base by base is the underlying principle of the game, and a home-run hitter must follow suit, even though the ball has flown out of the park.

Violation of some rules, such as those governing motor vehicle use on public roads, can have agonizingly painful consequences. While bad grammar is not ordinarily life- threatening, it can damage the reputations of organizations and individuals because it suggests they lack attentiveness to details.

Let's get back to "so." What's so icky about the expression "so fun"?

The answer is simple. The word "fun" is a noun, and the word "so" is an adverb. An adverb is a descriptive word that is used to modify verbs, adjectives and even other adverbs. An adverb can even modify a phrase or even an entire sentence--but cannot modify nouns or pronouns.

To help explain why, analyze how other adverbs function in sentences. Most, but not all, adverbs end with the suffix "-ly." The words "quickly," "silently," "brightly" and "consequently" are all adverbs, as are "soon," "very," "more," "there," "twice," "now," "too," "however," and, of course, "so."

Pairing any of those with a noun would sound illiterate: "Ellen quickly dinner" or "Bill soon his office."

In "Ellen quickly dinner," the adverb "quickly is in search of a missing verb. Did she quickly cook dinner? Quickly serve dinner? Or quickly eat dinner?

Is "Bill soon his office" intended to mean that he will soon arrive at his office? Or he soon left his office? "Soon" is an orphan adverb. We can't be certain of the intended meaning without knowing the missing verb.

Closer to the "fun" example, substitute a different noun--perhaps "pleasure" or "snow." No one would think of saying, "Your visit gave us so pleasure" or "The mountains had so snow during the weekend." Both are missing an adjective.

That's also true for "so fun." And the missing adjective may not necessarily be "much." You could also say, "We went, but we left early because we had so little fun." The adverb "so" in this case is used as an "intensifier," to indicate the degree of fun by intensifying the adjective--"much" or "little."

Suppose our young business associate had said, "The boardwalk amusement area is such fun!" That's grammatically correct, because "such" is an adjective, properly modifying the noun "fun."

The word "so" can function as an adjective when it's used as a synonym for "true," as in: "I didn't believe she made a fortune in the stock market, but she wouldn't be driving that expensive car if it weren't so."

Perhaps you're thinking that at least one adverb--"too"- -can, indeed, be paired with a pronoun, as in: Lynlee said she supported the proposal, and Dave said, "Me, too." It cannot, because "me, too" is a grammatically improper colloquial phrase masquerading for the complete sentence "I do, too"--in which "too" modifies the previously missing verb "do."

Speaking of the word "not," that is another adverb that is being misused in another atrocious construction that began as teenage slang but has crept into the corporate world among adults who ought to know better.

"I am so not ready for this meeting," Denise tells Judy. That sentence is the metaphorical equivalent of the cartoon in which a small fish is about to be devoured by a larger fish, which in turn is about to be swallowed by an even bigger fish. In Denise's sentence, the adverb "so" is modifying the adverb "not," which is modifying the adjective "ready," which is modifying the pronoun "I." What a cluttered mess! To simplify and correct it, consolidate redundant words and eliminate unnecessary ones. Replace "not ready" with its adjectival equivalent: unprepared. Consider also that degrees of preparedness really don't exist; you're either prepared or unprepared. "So unprepared" is the equivalent of "unprepared." The sentence therefore essentially says, "I am unprepared for this meeting." Plain. Simple. And grammatically proper.

In another grotesque application of the adverb "not," Phil expresses his intended avoidance of a seminar by saying, "I am so not there." That expression defies dissection. One level, the sentence is self evident: Phil obviously is not at the seminar because he's HERE, talking to me. It's apparently a weak, illiterate attempt to say, "I am absolutely unwilling to be there." But if the sentence "I am so not there" reflects the clarity of Phil's thinking, the people who are attending the seminar may be better off in his absence.

And they'll have so much fun without him.

EditPros / writing, editing & employee training
Marti Childs  marti@editpros.com Jeff March jeffm@editpros.com
423 F Street, Suite 206, Davis, CA 95616-4153
(530) 759-2000;  fax (530) 759-2051 http://www.editpros.com

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