Printable Version
Pronunciation: so-so Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, Adverb

Meaning: Ordinary, usual, not particular, neither particularly good nor particularly bad.

Notes: Today's Good Word is one of those funny little English words that are created by whim rather than by grammatical rule (though it didn't make The 100 Funniest Words in English). They should be evanescent creatures but cling to their position in the English vocabulary for reasons that often defy comprehension. This one is very common as both an adjective (a so-so performance) and an adverb (I only ran so-so in the marathon).

In Play: The word that should mean "so-so", mediocre, has taken on a pejorative connotation in English, so so-so is used in the same sense but without being judgmental: "Gladys Friday does a so-so job in the office. but don't expect to see her there after 5 PM." Its derivational peculiarity may contribute to its survival: "Dolly Salvador paints a so-so landscape, but her portraits are really mediocre."

Word History: Today's Good Word is the adverb-adjective so reduplicated. "To be just so" in English means that something is as it should be. Reduplicating it emphasizes that meaning, implying that something is just as it should be and nothing more. The adverb-adjective so came down to us from Old English swa, swæ "in this way". It goes back to an old Proto-Indo-European reflexive pronoun meaning "self", which became hos "as" in Greek, se "him/her/itself" in Latin, and svoj "one's own" in Russian.

Dr. Goodword,

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