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The Word We Need to Unteach Our Daughters

Me, recently, to the Mom.me editing staff:

"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).

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"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 idea."

There. Better.

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 in communicating.

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."

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Sure, she used the "just" word. But correctly. Not apologetically.

So let's just all work to stop apologizing, stop using weak words, and let's just be awesome. Who's with me?

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