The days may be so numbered for Chandler, Monica and the rest of the gang on the final season of the hit U.S. sitcom, “Friends”, but they may have left a lasting imprint on contemporary English, with their perpetual use of “so” -- as in “so cool.”
A study by researchers at the University of Toronto suggests the language used in the popular television show both reflected and influenced speaking trends.
In the report “So Cool; So Weird; So Innovative”, to be presented this weekend at the American Dialect Society’s annual meeting in Boston, linguistics professor Sali Tagliamonte and co-author Chris Roberts focused on intensifiers -- words used to emphasize a point -- and found that the language used by the TV characters not only mirrored what goes on in the real world, but actually pushes it forward.
“’So’ is the new favorite -- at least among mainstream culture,” Tagliamonte told Reuters on Thursday, adding that no study has been done on why the word is so popular.
Co-author Roberts spent a year going through transcripts from each episode of the first eight seasons of “Friends”, taking note of every single adjective for the study.
The study found Monica, Phoebe and Rachel used “so” much more frequently than Chandler, Ross or Joey, reflecting what researchers have established through previous studies: women are generally the leaders in linguistic change.
The authors also found the show’s popularity peaked at the same time the characters said “so” the most, and as the use of the word declined, so did the show’s popularity.
Intensifiers provide researchers with an ideal way to examine language trends, because they change and are cycled over time.
In the 13th century, it was “well”, which eventually gave way to “full”, which then gave way to “right” in the 15th century.
“Some old person off the beaten track in a more rural community might still say: ’Well, that’s right good’,” Tagliamonte said.