Weather Forecast


Just justifying the justness of just

I've noticed a new naughty word this week, and am unwilling to sit back and let it ravage society. Therefore, I'm waging a war on just-ness.

Now, reader, don't misunderstand. I'm not affronting "justness," but the word "just," as described by its fifth adverbial definition: "only; merely."

Has anyone noticed how we use this word? It appears in phrases like "I'm just having an off day" and "I'm just in a good mood." Sometimes it shows up in sentences like "I just think it might have been a good idea to blow the candles out before shoving the cake in his face," or "It's just a flesh wound!"

Stephen L. Carter, of whose aptitude I know absolutely nothing except that he wrote a relatively controversial book about "how American law and politics trivialize religious devotion," has noticed, indeed.

Ignoring his opinions on seemingly weightier subjects, his thoughts concerning the word on trial are succinct but potent. He writes that it "suggests that what rather small potatoes."

I don't know about you, but if I'm going to eat a potato, it's going to be a large one.

Often, we start a sentence with "I just..." and follow up with an opinion, feeling, or concern.

For whatever reason, I've become disturbingly attuned to these instances (guess there hasn't been much on TV lately), which has forced me into a probing analysis of the apparent situation.

My question is: why do we feel the need to qualify our personally-powered convictions, advice, and emotions with the suggestion that they are of a "sheer, simple, measly" measure of importance?

There is nothing "mere" about voicing an opinion, about being happy or sad or mad or bloodily wounded with entrails cascading from your abdominal area. When we make suggestions, they are not "barely, hardly" worth listening to.

When we convey our intentions to someone we care about (as in: "I just want you to be careful/safe/sober/an accountant") it is entirely acceptable for them to be "utterly, totally, fully, wholly" intentional.

As my questionably qualified friend Stephen L. said: "The rhetoric matters."

This just-ness is the equivalent of saying, "I'm probably wrong, so don't take the time to fret over my less-than-worthwhile thoughts, feelings, and hopes, but I feel an inexplicable need to share this with you, and so I'm going to, but if you don't agree, or care, or even listen, oh well, no biggie."

Remember the potatoes? I propose we make that sort of half-hearted attempt at assertion a biggie.

If it sounds like I'm overreacting (something I've been known to do on occasion -- ask the guys at Hank's Heating) to a harmless instance of word usage, I have one last argument, centered on the linguistic relativity principle. (Sounds convincing already, right?)

The principle theorizes that our language affects our cognitive appraisals of the world, and hence our behavior in it. Although its pervasiveness is debatable, most linguists find varying degrees of truth in its basic claim: the words we use matter.

It's the reason many feminists seek gender neutral pronouns, and why you might be glared at when you call something "gay" or "lame" or "retarded" when you mean that it's stupid or silly. It's the reason we debate politically correct terminology, and why the first time child swears a hush falls on his/her (case in point) parents.

This isn't about a single word; it's about individual empowerment. It's a call to think about what you say, and, when you say it, to believe it, to acknowledge that it is your view, your sentiment, your thought, your counsel, understanding that alone makes it significant.

Just think about it, 'kay?

Thressa Johnson graduated from Detroit Lakes High School and attends Hamline University in St. Paul.