Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

I So Swear!

Posted by Neal on May 25, 2005

My wife and I rented National Treasure over the weekend. In the prologue segment, a young Benjamin Franklin Gates is let in on some family lore. His grandfather tells of an ancient treasure, hidden and protected by the Knights Templar, and later by the Masons. Ben’s grandfather is a Mason, and Ben declares that he wants to be one, too. His grandfather agrees, and right then and there administers the oath. After listing the responsibilities Ben is swearing to accept, Ben’s grandfather finishes with, “Do you so swear?”

Ben answers, “I so swear!”

That was pretty clever. Just by changing the stress and intonation, the screenwriters changed the ceremonial so meaning “to this effect” or “in this way” to Gen-X so, packing into a single line not only Ben’s acceptance of these duties, but also his “I can’t believe how cool this is!” state of mind.

But wait a minute. That was the prologue. The main action of the movie, with a grown-up Ben, seems to take place more or less in the present, which means his taking of the oath most likely happened sometime in the 1980s, which makes his use of Gen-X so an anachronism. I think a more 1980s-appropriate combining ceremonial language and youthful enthusiasm would have been like this:

Ben’s grandfather: You understand, this is an awesome responsibility you’re undertaking?

Ben: A totally awesome responsibility!

One Response to “I So Swear!”

  1. Anton said

    Hm. I think I remember lines like you are so busted in the Eighties, though indeed not with so modifying a verb in simple present tense.

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