Stop Prefixing with “So”

I was pleased to learn from Current Archaeology #330 (p. 65) that Chris Catling shares my distaste for the habit scientists have recently picked up of prefixing their answers to interview questions with ”So…”.

Q: Where did you find the new exciting fossil?
A: So we found it in Mongolia.
Q: How old is it?
A: So it’s from the Early Cretaceous.

What annoys me about this isn’t just that it’s new. I know that us speakers change language over time. My irritation is down to the fact that I reserve ”So”, when used in this position in a phrase, for two other purposes. Either to mean ”thus, ergo, it follows that”, or to indicate that I spoke about this before and was interrupted, and now I want to pick up where I left off. Neither of these apply to your first response in an interview. To my ear, it’s as bad as opening with ”Nevertheless” or ”On the other hand”.

Dear scientist, if a question about your recently published work, the work for which you have scheduled an interview with the radio, takes you by surprise, then feel free to prefix your reply with ”Well…” while you think about it. If you must.


The Lovecraftian Horror of French

1972 back-cover blurb

1972 back-cover blurb

I bought a used copy of Maurice Lévy’s Lovecraft ou du fantastique (Paris 1972) at the Fantastika 2016 scifi con, and now I’m picking my way through it with the aid of a dictionary. S.T. Joshi has published an English translation, Lovecraft: A Study in the Fantastic (Detroit 1988).

Here’s how little of Lévy’s literary French I understand without a dictionary. This back-cover blurb is a particularly hairy piece of writing, I should say.

The case of Lovecraft … the thick volume of fantastic literature. A limited case where … should cease: between a neurosis which, while it let phantasms bloom in writing, never would become quiet, and the … power of myth, rootedness, the return to …, modest foundation of … . Between the imagery of dreams – innumerable invaders of which the story … the equivocal but knew it also just well enough to become its structure –, and the work of wakefulness which … and organises them according to its persistent logic. But what power does the wakeful man’s persistence have against the might of the night if he has already quietly consented? … believe that the Origin conceals itself there…

Hedge-Wizards and Hedge-Parsons

The Grey Mouser, along with Fafhrd the Northerner hero of Fritz Leiber’s genre-defining sword & sorcery story cycle, is the archetype of the Dungeons & Dragons thief. He began his career however, Leiber informs us, as apprentice to a “hedge-wizard” who taught him some simple magical cantrips. I never understood what a hedge-wizard was, until now. I imagined it had to do with living in a squalid cottage out in the fields and being in touch with nature, druid-like.

Reading Avram Davidson’s story “The King Across the Mountains”, I now came across a hedge-parson. And googling, I found out that such a priest was once “an Irish priest ordained without having studied at a regular college, but at a hedge school”. And such a school was “in Ireland, school kept in a hedge corner. An open air school”. (All according to Arthur English, A Dictionary of Words and Phrases Used in Ancient and Modern Law, Washington D.C. 1899.)

I wonder what sort of reader Leiber was envisioning, who would be able to make and appreciate the hedge-wizard – hedge-parson link.

Update 17 March: Dear Reader Derek points to an excellent selection of usage for the word “hedge-priest” and explains, “I think, the sort of reader who, like Leiber, would have read Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, that was quite popular in his day. Thanks to Scott and other 19th century authors, and their imitators, the hedge-priest was quite a cliché of historical novels set in mediaeval England.”

I haven’t read Ivanhoe in English and my edition is abbreviated. One part that’s been omitted, I now discover, is the argument in chapter 33 where the Prior calls Brother Tuck a hedge-priest.