Have you noticed that half of the answers to questions and half of reports (statistic not scientifically confirmed) on radio and television news and interview programs begin with, “So…”
News Anchor: For the latest on White House reaction to those discouraging employment figures, here’s correspondent Ralph Glutz.
Glutz: So, Robert, the President chooses to see the glass half full…
Interviewer: Coach, did you ever dream that the outcome of a contest against your old rival would be determined by a weird shoestring catch in the bottom of the ninth?
Coach: So, that’s what makes baseball such a great game, y’know?
Are these superfluous uses of the word a way, in uncertain times, of appearing to avoid commitment? Or are they, indeed, superfluous? Why have they suddenly proliferated? What part of speech is “so” when it precedes an answer or a statement— adjective, adverb, pronoun, conjunction?
I suppose it’s preferable to, “Uh,” and it goes nicely with another omnipresent advancement in articulate English usage, witness the waiter who asked my table full of beer drinkers the other day, “So, ‘sup?”
From time to time, the Rifftides staff likes to tap the wisdom of Mr. P.C., the dispenser of advice to jazz musicians who find themselves out of touch with fine points of behavior on and off the bandstand. In his current column, Mr. P.C. addresses a matter of language that relates to economic resourcefulness and well-being.
Dear Mr. P.C.:
When people use big words to describe their music, is that supposed to make it better? Like I know a bassist who says he’s “contextualizing” his music. Why does he do that?
— Bassist Uses Lofty Language
He’s practicing Grantspeak, of course. Here’s the story: A few decades ago, granting agencies grudgingly started funding jazz projects. But how can their panelists judge the applications when they know nothing about jazz music?
Well, what they ARE comfortable judging is intellect, so they depend on jazz artists to put it on full display. That’s why savvy applicants like your bassist friend keep their eye on the prize and practice at every opportunity. In fact, if you’d stuck around a little longer you might have even seen him go from contextualizing to “re-contextualizing.” Extra credit!
Although grantors were the original targets of Grantspeak, its use has become more widespread. Other people in positions of power in the jazz world — especially presenters and journalists — have proven equally susceptible to its charms. And it’s even starting to influence artists, not only in their music, but also in their interactions:
Andrew: “Hey, Bob, what’s happening?”
Bob: “You know, just shedding, trying to keep my chops up. How about you?”
Andrew: Actually, in my new multidisciplinary song cycle, based on a contemporary reading of recovered scripts from the earliest matriarchal societies, I’m re-examining the relationship between soloist and ensemble, looking for ways to evoke a more egalitarian, communal paradigm.”
Bob (embarrassed): “Cool. Um, guess I’ll go practice Stablemates.”
Andrew (silently): “Heh, heh, heh.”
People ask where jazz is heading, BULL, and I can answer definitively: Grantspeak is the future! Not only as a descriptive language, but as a quasi-paradigmatic, non-idiomatic re-contextualization of jazz itself. Buy your thesaurus now, before you and your music are left behind!
To see all of Mr. P.C.’s June column, visit his Facebook page.