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September 10, 2009


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Steven Lubet

So you didn't.

Eric Fink

Let us not forget one of the most beautiful, and famous, sentences in modern literature:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

I don't think it would have quite the same effect without the "so".

So there.

Scott Boone

Starting sentences with "and" and "but" is one of my biggest writing vices. I cannnot resist it (though I eventually edit them all out). And placing parentheticals within parentheses where a dependent clause would suffice is my second biggest writing vice.


If Matthew Arnold can start a whole chapter of _Culture and Anarchy_ with "But", I think it will be find if you start a few sentences with it!

Rob Heverly

I really enjoyed the comments on this post. Eric, just to be fair to Larry, he did recognize an exception for poetry, and I think that probably applies to all kinds of "lyrical" writing, including novels. A great line, though, and definitely one to leave as is. Scott (perhaps I should have said, "And Scott"), I agree with Matt, no problem with a few "and" or "but" line starters in a piece (just don't go and overdo it now).

Lawrence Cunningham

Rob: Thanks for the careful report. I am happy to concentrate on the manifest problem of overuse of so to begin a sentence, in the usage I describe, not on rigid adherence to a rule banning so to begin a sentence. Thanks also for noting the scope of my criticism, which did not encompass examples used in this thread, "So you didn't," "So we beat on," or "So there."

Eoin O'Dell

Rob would probably not approve of Seamus Heaney beginning his translation of Beowulf with the word "So". He explains:

... when the men of the family spoke, the words they uttered came across with a weighty distinctness, phonetic units as separate and defined as delph platters displayed on a dresser shelf. A simple sentence such as ‘We cut the corn today’ took on immense dignity when one of the Scullions spoke it. They had a kind of Native American solemnity of utterance, as if they were announcing verdicts rather than making small talk. And when I came to ask myself how I wanted Beowulf to sound in my version, I realized I wanted it to be speakable by one of those relatives. I therefore tried to frame the famous opening lines in cadences that would have suited their voices, but that still echoed with the sound and sense of the Anglo-Saxon.

Hwæt w Gr-Dena in gar-dagum
Þod-cyninga þrym gefrnon,
H p æþelingas ellen fremedon

Conventional renderings of hwæt, the first word of the poem, tend towards the archaic literary, with ‘lo’, ‘hark’, ‘behold’, ‘attend’ and – more colloquially – ‘listen’ being some of the solutions offered previously. But in Hiberno-English Scullion-speak, the particle ‘so’ came naturally to the rescue, because in that idiom ‘so’ operates as an expression that obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention. So, ‘so’ it was:

So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.

If it's good enough for a Nobel prize winner, then it's good enough for me!

Joe (A.B.)

Heaney's "So." doesn't feel quite right to me. Liuzza's "Listen!" is better. ("Hark" might be good, in that it sounds more like "hwaet," but there are some other problems with it.)

Rob Heverly

Eoin, I have no problem with "So" in Heaney's translation, and I doubt Larry would, either (especially given his post and statement here in the comments). Poetic license = excuse to do whatever you want with the language so long as it sounds cool and speaks to someone. If he repeated two thousand times, it would be a different story (though perhaps Philip Glass could even get away with that).

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