I was startled by the following sentence in today’s Pepys’ Diary entry: “One thing more; there happened a scaffold below to fall, and we feared some hurt, but there was none, but she of all the great ladies only run down among the common rabble to see what hurt was done, and did take care of a child that received some little hurt, which methought was so noble.” (Emphasis added.) I had thought that this use of so as a mere intensive, unattached to any other components of the sentence, was much later, but apparently not; it’s the OED’s 14.a. (“In affirmative clauses, tending to become a mere intensive without comparative force, and sometimes emphasized in speaking and writing”), which they take all the way back to Beowulf (“þæt we hine swa godne gretan moton”), and there’s another startlingly modern example from 1741: Richardson, Pamela III. 168 “My Face.. was hid in my Bosom, and I looked so silly!”
On my way to definition 14, I couldn’t help but notice 7.b., which I have to share:
b. slang. Homosexual. Obs.
1937 in PARTRIDGE Dict. Slang. 1963 C. MACKENZIE Life & Times II. 254 ‘I’ve come to the conclusion,’ he told me, ‘that I’m not really “so” at all. I much prefer girls.’ At this date [sc. 1899] the cant word among homosexuals for their proclivities was ‘so’. That seems to have vanished completely from current cant. 1968 J. R. ACKERLEY My Father & Myself xvi. 192 A young ‘so’ man, picked up by Arthur in a Hyde Park urinal. 1973 Daily Tel. (Colour Suppl.) 23 Feb. 51/4 Wilde used to call him ‘the architect of the moon’. Rothenstein, Beerbohm,.. and Epstein were his more predictable friends, as he was not.. at all ‘gay’, as it is now called, or, as it was then called, ‘so’.