So To Speak – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you unsure how to explain something perfectly? Maybe you want to give an example, but make sure the listener knows that you are not being literal. If so, the phrase “so to speak” is a great way to get your point across. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


When a person says “so to speak” they are referring to a figurative scenario. It means that what is being said or shown is metaphorical, or meant to closely resemble their actual goal. It is also an uncommon way of giving an explanation when a straightforward description won’t be easily understood. If someone is not being accurate or is unable to be exact, using the phrase “so to speak” will suffice.

This turn of phrase is also used to explain a concept to a person or group of people who may not fully understand the original concept. The original use of the term so to speak was used by those who typically spoke High English to refer to low-caste people or forms of English.

Example Usage

“This information is really only for relatives, but, so to speak, I’ll clue you in”.

“Unfortunately he is not free to do as he wants, his wife acts like his jailer so to speak”.

“A guardian for a minor takes the place of a parent so to speak”.

“There is, so to speak, an informal agreement regarding how much time we can spend here each year”.


The phrase has been around since the early 1800s. There were earlier variants of the phrase such as so to say and in the vernacular. Over time, the phrase has evolved to “so to speak”, though all iterations of the phrase share the same meaning. The word vernacular was one used by the educated class or the upper class in the 1800s, and most people outside of these classes were unaware of the meaning. Although it was considered high English, it was not formal English, which often led to confusion.

As a result, many in the upper classes would adopt the saying “so to speak” as a way to make themselves understood. It was also a way to preface one’s words to inform the listener that an inexact explanation would be forthcoming. In modern days, the phrase has seeped into both regular conversations, and also written text on all levels.

Phrases Similar to So To Speak

  • If you will
  • Sort of like
  • In the vernacular
  • In a manner of speaking
  • Similar to

Phrases Opposite to So To Speak

  • In this way
  • Specifically
  • Directly
  • In the same manner
  • Similar to
  • Along the same lines

What is the Correct Saying?

  • The proper saying is – so to speak.

Ways People May Incorrectly Say So To Speak

Many people use the tense incorrectly, or they use it in a way that is out of context. Some ways that So To Speak is used incorrectly are:

  • When you address me, so to speak, try to be direct.
  • Talking to me is like talking to the prince so to speak.
  • The right way to so to speak is with emphasis on the consonants.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase So To Speak

Like many idioms, so to speak has become a phrase that is commonly used in everyday conversations. Some ways that so to speak is used correctly are:

  • He is very mean to his family, almost as if he resents being part of the family so to speak.
  • When there are academic divisions, it is important to keep your eye on the prize so to speak.
  • The way that they were camped out in front of the store was just like they were guarding their potential property so to speak.
  • The only way to lose yourself in a story is to become part of the story, like a character so to speak.

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