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.

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

  1. I too noticed the “So….” quite some time ago, and I’ve even heard myself say it, but I don’t think I’ve noticed “different to” yet despite working with Brits on at least a weekly basis for the past few months. I’ll have to keep my ears open for it! Reading it in your examples definitely makes me pause and re-read it. I think I alternate between “different from” and “different than”, depending on some factors I can’t quite identify at the moment, other than to just to say “how it sounds”. I would use “different than” in the second example, and maybe in the third one as well, especially if there was more to the sentence and depending on how the rest of it sounded.

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