View Full Version : I like English so-so. so-so???

21-Jun-2005, 15:54
I've been working in Japan and I get "so-so" as an answer to just about anything.

How are you doing? So-so.

Do you like English? So-so.

Can I jab you in the eye with this pen? So-so.

I've been here 6 years now and my native ears have lost a little of their edge. I need some confirmation. This came up recently when I told a Japanese teacher, "In English we don't like things 'so-so.' We either like them or don't like them to some degree."

Do you like English?

Yes. / No. / A little. / Not really. / Some aspects. etc.

I told him I don't think it's technically wrong but it doesn't sound natural. I went on to explain that so-so is rarely used but might be used when talking about ability as well as other situations to mean somewhat.

Are you good at basketball? Ehh, so-so. Why do you ask?

Japanese language, as a part of culture, is very indefinite and they have very common termanology that is translated in dictionaries as "so-so." I can see where that is easier than all of the case by case answers.

Should I just let it go? Do we have bigger fish to fry? Am I off base here?

22-Jun-2005, 05:35
I agree that it isn't very natural with 'like', though not wrong.

'Did you like being jabbed in the eye with a pen?'
'It was so-so.'

This sounds OK to me.

25-Jun-2005, 06:02
Aslo, since I rejected my Japanese teacher's usage of "so-so," he asked me, "So, how do you use so-so."

I told him, "Sparingly."

However, I've run it over in my head and can'tseem to come up with a good answer.

Can anyone tell me how to use "so-so?"

25-Jun-2005, 18:54
It's like 'raining cats and dogs'- non-native speakers seem to love it, but native speakers shun it. I honestly can't remember the last time I used it. Probably in an attempt to discourage a student from using it. I think 'once a year' is probably enough. It like using 'sometimes' as an answer to 'how often'- virtually meaningless. I ssearched the British National Corpus (http://view.byu.edu/) and got a whopping 22 examples from 100,000,000 words. That suggests it is not that frequent in NES use. ;-)

26-Jun-2005, 00:21
Thanks for the confirmation. I think I'll just tell him to use something else if he can.

I appreciate it.

Mark :-)

30-Jun-2005, 08:19
I don't know if anyone else mentioned it but this is an artifact of the Japanese language.

"Not very much" or "not very good" or "not very bad" or " not completely" all translate as the Japanese proto-word, まあまあ (maa-maa)... along with almost any feeling of incompleteness.

The word is close in syllabic cadence to the Japanese-sounding English phrase, so-so. Since "so-so" means pretty much "maa-maa" and can be rendered perfectly in Japanese (そそ) it often is one of the first words young learners pick up and they are loathe to let go of it.

It's something like a deep false cognate.

(For the linguists in the audience, maa-maa is probably a diminutive corruption of the word "mattaku 全く," which means "completely." Japanese is full of these kinds of repetitive proto-words to mean... well, whatever the situation calls for them to mean - the language is really forgiving that way. Other examples: nani-nani, from "nani" meaning "what," to mean "What?! / What did you say? / Whatever, whatever." moshi-moshi, from "mousu," for "Hello. (on the phone) / Look out!" and so on (or nan toka - nan toka) ;-) )