English Usage: The Science “So…” and the British “Different to…”

While listening to science podcasts such as Science Weekly, Science Friday, and Science Times, I began to notice a speech pattern that must pervade the science community: the use of “So …” to introduce remarks.

“So what they discovered is that …”
“So they fed mice a diet of …”
“So when the amygdala shows up on brain scans …”

I don’t hear this introductory word used by people being interviewed in non-science fields. If they use a word at all, it’s usually “well …”

I began listening for this diagnostic word indicating a bit of science is to follow and noticed it on TV science shows as well when scientists were being interviewed. I don’t know if this usage phenomenon has been widely identified.

The other expression to catch my ear during podcasts and interviews relates not simply to scientists, but to most British and Australian speakers. In North America we tend to vacillate between two forms of the comparative: “different than” and “different from.” I remember my grade school grammar teacher telling us that “different from” was the preferred usage, though I hear “different than” more frequently.

When listening to British speakers I hear an altogether different expression: “different to.”

“Middle English is different to Old English in the use of …”
“The highlands are different to the lowlands because …”
“Stage acting is different to movie acting.”

I rather like the expression, though I wouldn’t use it myself. It sounds foreign to my North American ear. I’m still firmly imprinted in the “different from” camp.

The Problem with Streaming Video


Streaming video, whether from Netflix or YouTube, is a great medium for young people with good hearing. But there comes a time in life, alas, when hearing starts to diminish and your either watch things with the volume turned up too far for decency, or you rely on captioning, or subtitles.

My wife and I are in our mid-60’s and our hearing has started to go. Our solution to this, when watching TV or DVDs, is to turn on captioning. It goes by various names: captioning, closed captioning, subtitles in English, subtitles for the hearing impaired. Go to Setup on a DVD and you’ll be able to turn it on.

We first started using subtitles when listening to British shows that often had hard-to-understand regional dialects. Then we used them for the archaeology show Time Team so we could catch the technical terms that were unfamiliar to our ears. It was better than “What was that he said?” “I dunno, couldn’t make it out.”

By the time we discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer the show was no longer on the air so we bought the DVD collection. There were so many quick lines and references to pop culture that we needed the subtitles to keep up.

Now it’s become our preferred way to watch any kind of video. We can keep the volume on the TV low yet still not miss any of the dialog.

With streamed video, which we watch via a Western Digital TV Live media player attached to our TV, there are no subtitles. There are none when we listen on our iThings either. I’ve often wondered why subtitles are not offered as a viewer option.

Not knowing the industry, I suspect it might have something to do with licensing rights and that subtitles and captions are not necessarily licensed along with the video itself. I could be wrong, of course. It may simply be that adding a subtitle track to the video isn’t standardized.

I hope something might be done about this eventually. There is, of course, a large demographic consisting of aging seniors and soon-to-be-seniors. Streamed video services would be more attractive to them as subscribers if they included captioning.

Captioning has some downsides, of course. And some chuckles. The captions occasionally obscure something you’re trying to see. Or, more comically, they try to capture the mood of the video by announcing “ominous music” when a murder is about to be committed. Still, they’ve become an important part of our viewing pleasure.

That’s it for now.

(“waves goodbye”)