Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Just"..... just a word, right?

Teaching my own language makes me more aware of the words I choose to use. Word choice and word placement can change the meaning of what I want to say.

While walking home from school today, the thought popped into my head, "Just another school-day done." I started analyzing that statement and had some interesting thoughts about the word, "just." I know it has several meanings, but I am exploring just the qualitative aspect of the word and its meanings: "only" and "a moment ago." (And I just used it that way.....oh, there it is again...)

The difference in the meaning depends on its placement in the sentence. I'll give an example: (This example is a pair of statements that I've said many times -- not as an example of using this word, but just because they were true.)
          "I just ran fifteen miles today."
          "I ran just fifteen miles today."
Unless I was talking to a fellow distance runner, these statements always brought incredulous looks and a continued conversation geared toward my sanity....or lack thereof. Anyway, the first sentence means that I ran not long ago -- the second one, that I ran only fifteen miles. (When training for a marathon, fifteen miles becomes "only" after running in the 20's!) But notice how putting the word in one place makes it mean one thing, and moving it just one word over completely changes the meaning of the statement.

Okay, enough of the grammar lesson.

I use the word "just" an awful lot, probably too much. Most nights when I write my blog post, I delete that word at least once when I edit what I have written before hitting the "Publish Post" button. It's way overused, and often unnecessary. And as I thought about the word and what it means, I realized that it does more than give me a synonym for "only." It belies an underlying bent in thinking about the person/object/idea that is being talked about. I think that it can show an unappreciative attitude toward or diminish the importance of the thing being qualified. Not good.

If I am teaching someone to do something -- anything from swimming the crawl stroke to pronouncing the word, "birthday" correctly (a very difficult word for Georgians) -- and I say, "Just do this.....;" that has a condescending tone to it. I am putting myself above them by belittling their inability to do whatever it is I can do that they cannot. Insinuating that the action is easy furthers this abstract distance I have created between us. That opens the door for the learner to feel inadequate, to lose faith in themselves, and before long, to shut down.

Back to the statement that got me thinking about this word: "Just another school-day done." My underlying attitude here could be that I am not looking at this day as the gift that it is, but a drudgery to be endured. Each day is a gift, and how I choose to view it will affect how I choose to use it. When I had this thought, I wasn't meaning to discount the day's importance -- yet after thinking about this statement in conjunction with my deeply-rooted desire to go Home, I know that that thought grew out of my wish for time to pass more quickly. "Just four months to go..." is another thought that I have to push out of my mind. Marking time and wishing it away will make me miss the blessing of today.

So no more using the word, "just" in negative-qualifying statement......just positive ones!


  1. I have to remind myself of this a lot too. For some reason it is hard to be content with where we are at.

  2. I often use this word too, and never really thought about how condescending it might sound. I never thought about how much it diminishes the value of whatever it is that I'm talking (or thinking) about, either. Thanks for sharing your insights!!!