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"So, I had an idea. I just thought I would send it to you and see what you
thought. I was looking at my Facebook feed and, like, everyone I know is doing
that, "What are your most used words on Facebook," algorithm word cloud thing. Almost every woman I know has "just" as one of their main words, if not
their actual main word. So, I was just thinking that maybe this could be an
interesting topic to write about. Just let me know!"
Actually, I didn't write my pitch to my editors
exactly like that. But it gets close sometimes. Ever since I read the viral post by ex-Google and Apple alum Ellen Petry
Leanse on the topic of the overuse of "just" (4 million hits and counting), I've been mindful of how
and when I use the word "just." Even with cutting down, the word "just" is bigger than many in the graphic above (Another thing you can tell by my word cloud, I am a shameless Disney fan).
"I began to notice that 'just'
wasn't about being polite," Leanse writes. "It was a subtle message of
subordination, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even
duplicitous. As I started really listening, I realized that striking it from a
phrase almost always clarified and strengthened the message."
Since reading the piece, I have deleted the word in
more professional emails than I care to count. It never occurred to me that those
four letters diminished what I was saying and deflated the strength of my ideas. But when I deleted the word, my concept, my pitch,
my idea was all the stronger for it.
Example: "I just thought writing something about saving humankind might be a good idea."
Compare that to: "I think writing something about saving humankind might be a good idea."
Deleting that one word gives the idea so much more
strength. While I'm at it, I should delete another other weak word I tend to rely on: might.
"I think writing something about saving humankind is a good
After seeing my friends' word clouds populating my Facebook feed with such prominent "just"s, it really hit home how much my peers and I rely on this word.
But let's get back to the "just" thing.
After seeing my friends' word clouds populating my Facebook
feed with such prominent "just"s, it really hit home how much my peers and I rely
on this word. Right now (since you're reading this on a parenting site, you're
probably in the same boat), I am teaching a young person the fundamentals of
life, and language and communication is one of the biggies. While I spend most
of my active word time with her reading or telling her the meaning of big words
like "synchronicity" or "Schadenfreude"—and that swearing will make her sound
not unlike a sailor—I also need to give her guidance for confidence and strength
I would like, nay, love, to teach her to use "just"
sparingly, so that it doesn't steal the thunder from what she is actually
trying to convey. In the same vein, I want her not to fall into the "I'm sorry"
trap, in which women using apologies—which, as Sloane Crosley notes in an
op-ed for the New York Times—are "inexorably linked with our conception of
politeness." Saying, "I'm sorry,
could you take the knife you just stabbed me with out of my back" or "I'm
sorry, do you mind if you don't set my house on fire right now" is, as
Crosley says, a "poor translation for a string of expletives."
It never occurred to me that those four letters diminished what I was saying and deflated the strength of my ideas.
The "just"s and "I'm sorry"s aren't helping us at all, and they
won't help our daughters if they continue in our verbal footsteps. Jennifer
Lawrence (the awesome actress, Academy Award winner
and gutsy broad) wrote in an essay on Lenny, "I'm over trying to find the
"adorable" way to state my opinion and still be likable! F*#k that. I don't
think I've ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what
angle he should use to have his voice heard. It's just heard."