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What is the grammatical purpose of the phrase "So…" in the following sentence?

Why don't you wear socks?

I don't wear socks because I believe it's more natural and I believe my feet smell more because of them, so….

I've heard people say this a few times, as if it's some kind of assumed end-of-conversation (or at least a wordy period). I don't have a printed reference to use as an example. The above sentences are constructed to reflect the few times I've heard the word used at the end of a sentence. I'm assuming the presence of the ellipsis.

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As you have pointed out, it can be a way to end a sentence that you don't quite know how to end.

However, it is also often used when there is an implied conclusion you would prefer not to say. The Atlantic has a great article on the "dangling so" as they call it, and they give a perfect example of not wanting to say what is implied: “Are you coming out tonight?” “Well, my kids have to be picked up from daycare by 5, so...”. They might not want to say it because they think it would be impolite to decline the invitation, or maybe because they think there might still be a chance that they will go, but in any case both people know what the conclusion is (the answer is no). As the Atlantic article points out "a lot of times what’s left unspoken is just as powerful as what’s spoken".

In any case, from a communication point of view, it is a way to indicate to your listener that you are done talking and hope they will say something to continue (or end) the conversation.

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I think you're on the right track, but I would say that when you call this device "a wordy period," which is a pretty good description of it, you're even there giving it too much credit.

It is essentially meaningless and certainly serves no grammatical purpose. People do it all the time. I've caught myself doing it, and have beaten myself severely for the same.

I think the best way to explain the impulse is this: You've tried to make a point or explain something, and you feel like you haven't sufficiently finalized it. You therefore feel compelled to say, "so..." at the end of your little speech, trailing off awkwardly, in the hope that it implies an eloquent conclusion to whatever you've just been trying to say.

Maybe the point you have just made is totally fine. You may nevertheless say "so..." because you are not confident that the other person agrees, approves, or understands. Or, maybe you've just spoken perfect nonsense and, rather than starting over and trying to get it right, you say "so..." in the hopes that the missing logic will be supplied by your listener and credited to you.

In either case, I would call it a pretty bad habit - one to be avoided!

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  • It's an indirect manner of avoiding being rude. Bad habit? Everyone has quirks in their speech. And on some occasions, that "so" is better than many other things that could be said...
    – Lambie
    Dec 30, 2021 at 20:36

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