Posted by Bob on September 11, 2000
In Reply to: So to speak? posted by ESC on September 11, 2000
: : My daughter came to me with an English assignment including meanings of specific phrases in the English language. The only one I couldn't quite put my finger on was the phrase, "so to speak." Even my best resources counldn't quite come up with a meaning. Some said it means, "in other words." Others say it really means nothing. A friend of mine read me from a dictionary of English language that it is, "an outdated, hackneyed expression" that should not be used. But, still no meaning was given. Anyone have a clear definition?
: I haven't found anything in my reference books, so far. But I think "so to speak" calls attention to a use of informal language, slang or jargon, in the preceding sentence. "It was a 'tempest in a teapot,' so to speak."
It raises the same objection that Will Strunk raised in "The Elements of Style" about the use of quotation marks around slang. You shouldn't do it. Either the phrase is appropriate or it ain't. If it's appropriate, use it. If it isn't, don't use it. But don't wink at it, putting quotation marks around it or say "so to speak" as a signal that "I know this is wrong, but you may not be aware, so I'll make it obvious to you." It's a tiny gratuitious insult, so to speak.