Why I Stopped Using the Word “Just”

Why i stopped using the word just Over Heaven's Hill Parenting Blog

A year ago, a former Google Executive, Ellen Petry Leanse, wrote a piece on LinkedIn advising women to avoid using the word “just.” When I read Leanse’ article, I admit I initially felt a tinge of feminism wash over me. The words Woman and Permission and Passive jumped out from the screen with a hand ready for a slap and I instantly took offence. I am by no means a feminist, but I will advocate for women’s rights if it is something I believe strongly in – Repeal the 8th – and stand up for my beliefs as regards to women in society. It’s not something you can run away from being a woman and a mother raising a strong and determined daughter. Leanse’ opinion on women’s overuse of such a simple word started to make sense to me the more I looked at how often I actually included it in my daily life. I’m just saying…

I have been, my entire life, a Just person

Stop Using the Word Just Over Heaven's Hill Parenting Blog

I’m just wondering… Just checking if… Can you just tell me… In emails, letters, conversations, texts, you know name it, I used it. Why? Was I being polite? Gently knocking on the door so not to fully disturb the giant on the other end? Was I afraid my query was not of great importance? I’m not sure – I veer towards polite. As though, using “just” was a mechanism to say “your time is important to me, so, I’ll be quick, but I really need you to answer my query.” How does that work if I really needed a response?

Leanse pointed out that

“just wasn’t about being polite: it was a subtle message of subordination, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even duplicitous.”

and this hit a cord with me. I believe she was right. I have overused the word in almost my entire working life. I made my way through college dancing the word around to lecturers and tutors. I am sure I have spouted it at conferences and courses and probably even at family barbecues. I would like to think that this is not only confined to women, that men are just bearers too. I hate the thought that women are passive, gentle, meek and obliging. That we simplify our way through conversations and tasks allowing senior colleagues (not necessarily men, might I add) to power and lord above us. In saying that, unfortunately, Leanse tested out the gender frequency for the use of the passive word just with a group of entreprenuers and the results speak for themselves – a small test group but a mixed gender group none the less.

“I asked them to leave the room to prepare, and while they were gone I asked the audience to secretly tally the number of times they each said the word “just.”

Sarah went first. Pens moved pretty briskly in the audience’s hands. Some tallied five, some six. When Paul spoke, the pen moved … once. Even the speakers were blown away when we revealed that count.

Now, that’s not research: It’s a mere MVP of a test that likely merits more inquiry, but we all have other work to do.”

Why i stopped using the word just Over Heaven's Hill Parenting Blog

Just Don’t Do It

I stopped using the words just and wondering in emails, in letters and in conversations with colleagues. These are the two repeat offender words that always seem to drift into my correspondence. I would write – because they always filter in and still do – and subsequently delete any passive and uninvolved words that weakened what I was saying. My thoughts were more direct, matter of fact and stronger as I dropped these words like a heavy hot plate on the kitchen floor. I understood what Leanse meant when she said

“As I started really listening, I realized that striking it from a phrase almost always clarified and strengthened the message.”

I don’t necessarily think this has had an affect on how my colleagues view me in my role as an information officer. Nor does it seem to have an affect on how quickly they answer my request or how important they deem my request to be. But there eludes a confidence with the strength and stability of direct language.

The reason I stopped using just after reading Leanse’s article was because I instantly felt more empowered and qualified as I dropped that simple four letter word. I felt determined (not that I wasn’t before) and that what I was saying had more punch and more power.

Why i stopped using the word just Over Heaven's Hill Parenting Blog

Sorry, but could I just…

The idea is similar to that of the over use of the word sorry. There are a million opinion pieces on why sorry shouldn’t be incorporated into our sentences… or any kind of qualifier, for that matter, which we attempt to use to emphasise our point. If we have a message, something we acknowledge and determine should be said, then say it – Loud and Proud. Don’t make excuses for why we say, don’t water it down with stop words that have no official bearing or weight – Say It.

“It was subtle, but small changes can spark big differences. I believe it helped strengthen our conviction, better reflecting the decisiveness, preparedness, and impact that reflected our brand.”

This idea has filtered into my Blogging Life and I find that I write with greater conviction, purpose and vigor when I’m conscious of avoiding hedge words. I am after all, as Leanse says, identifying and expanding my brand as Over Heaven’s Hill and that brand will be strong. My voice is capable and steady.

I will keep deleting just.

How often have you used the word Just today? Do you feel it reflects negatively?

The Pramshed

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41 Comments

  1. That’s such a good point, I’m going to monitor how often I say ‘just’ and see where that takes me.

    For me, the big linguistic red flag is ‘try’. Like when people say they’re going to try and do something it generally means that they’re not going to do it. They want to sound agreeable and don’t really want to admit to the fact that they’re not going to take any action. But like Yoda said “There is no try – there is only do or not do”.
    Joanne Mallon recently posted…5 things to do in PerthshireMy Profile

    1. It takes a good while to realise but when you’re conscious of it you can stop it. I still write just a lot but have to edit myself. It’s much harder to stop using it when speaking since you can’t edit yourself hah!

  2. I think this is a really important post. Women do it all the time. Men don’t say ‘I’m just a father’ or ‘I’m just a banker’ I’m aware of it but still do it all the time. Great post #fortheloveofBLOG

  3. I’ve read about that too; and I know i have written emails at work and gone back and added ‘just’ or ‘when you get the chance’ if I think I’ve been too blunt. It’s ridiculous. I will try and make efforts to stop ! ( PS I bet you are a tiny bit of a feminist 😉 ) #fortheloveofblog

    1. It’s interesting that it’s something we’re not aware of until someone points it out to us. I used to always start emails with “I was just wondering if” – I still write it but go back and delete and rephrase my opening a bit stronger. Yes I am a bit of a feminist – oddly enough B is a bigger feminist than me

  4. This is really interesting. I am definitely guilty of using the words “just” and “sorry” far too often in conversation. I always think I’m trying to be polite, but i recognise that actually words can be powerful and I may be selling myself short. Great food for thought piece. #fortheloveofBLOG

  5. I totally agree – I stopped using ‘just’ a while ago because I realised how passive and apologetic it made everything g I said sound. But why would you say you’re by ‘no means a feminist’. It sounds like you’re one to me and we shouldn’t be afraid to use the word. #starlinky

  6. This post is a great piece of advice – to avoid one simple word can help us with being more assertive. You may enjoy a book I’ve been reading recently – ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg (the COO of Facebook). She talks about making it as a woman in the corporate world but has a lot of interesting insights about the challenges women face and how they can help themselves. I would be interested in reading more about why you consider yourself not to be a feminist. What does feminism mean to you, that makes you think you aren’t one? #KCACOLS

    1. I’ve heard of that book but haven’t read it. I must pick it up. This post certainly has me reconsidering my position on feminism especially considering the phrase “I am by no means a feminist” has caught a lot of people’s attention.

  7. I’ve never considered this before reading your post, but I definitely do this all the time. It’s strange when you stop and think about how it makes you sound. I’ll be trying to keep an ear out for me doing this and bite my tongue before it comes out! Thanks for a really interesting and thought provoking post. #KCACOLS
    Katy – Hot Pink Wellingtons recently posted…5 Happy Things #20My Profile

  8. Very guilty of using “just” and “so” both in conversation and blog posts. I’ve never even thought about it before. Now that I’ve read your post I will actively try to stop myself in future. I tend to write as I would speak, I’ll have to be on high alert to get out of these habits! *off to edit all my blog posts now 😂😂#KCACOLS
    TheIrishBabyFairy recently posted…Your Questions Answered About Group B StrepMy Profile

  9. I remember reading about this a while ago and being aware that it’s something I do, I was so guilty of the ‘I was just wondering if..’ line when I worked in an office. I’m pretty sure I still do it now, but not as much as I used to. I do think you sound more confident when you drop the ‘justs’! x #KCACOLS
    Madeline (This Glorious Life) recently posted…Living arrows 32/52 and 33/52My Profile

  10. I don’t like just. Note my blog title!! Have you ‘just’ got one child. Is it ‘just’ the three of you. Is it ‘just us’ or is anyone else coming. It always implies not quite enough. Hence – not keen. #KCACOLS

  11. I use the word just all the time, I have never really even thought about it before; but having read this I will try and eliminate it!! Thanks for linking up to #StarLinky x

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