And Just Put it On
My wife's suggestion as to how to deal with a flat tire on our riding mower was "to buy a new tire and just put it on." Her use of "just" illustrates how we often use this word, namely when we want to minimize something, in this case a suggested course of action. She was treating putting on the tire as being easy. At the time I didn't have a Staples "Easy" button to take care of the problem but she and I conspired to get pressurized can of something that inflates the tire and repairs the hole(s).
What my wife said is like saying "you merely (simply, only need to) buy a new tire and put it on" where the minimization is overt, that is, is carried by the literal meaning of of "merely" or "simply" or "only." Use of merely is like saying you don't have to do much to solve your problem. Use of "simply" is like saying this is a simple job. Use of "only" conveys that all that is required is to perform the suggested action. These more overt ways of minimizing the suggestion are not very polite. Use of "just" more covertly, and thus more politely, suggests that the action required is simple. In general the less direct one is in making suggestions, or making requests, which are very similar, the more polite one is.
When a friend says,
"Could you wait for me? I'll just be inside a minute."don't be surprised if your friend doesn't come back within a minute or anything like a minute. We recognize this and would likely not complain if the speaker took five or even ten minutes, depending on what our patience threshold for waiting is and how busy we are. Requests for loans commonly include "just." Compare the next two sentences.
Could you help me out until I get my payroll check? I just need $300.This example illustrates that the "literal" or "conventional" meaning of "just," whatever it may be, is a great deal less important than its social significance. Notice that if "I just need $300" is true, then "I need $300" is true, and conversely, which is to say that "just" does not contribute to the truth/falsity of the assertion. It is there instead to communicate social meaning. You might go to my blogs on "Yes, but..." and The Meaning of Meaning for more on what I mean by the "social meaning" or "social significance" of utterances.
Could you help me out until I get my payroll check? I need $300.
Before discussing this further, let's look at what might be instances of the use of "just" that reflect its literal meaning -- that it is its meaning not its use (i. e., its social meaning or significance). A CNN story had a headline reading
Starr Investigation Costs Just Shy of $30 Million - April 1, 1998When I did a search for "costs just" hoping to get ads saying something like "Our product costs just...," I got a number of instances like the one just mentioned. We recognize that CNN is rounding off the number, partly to shorten the headline but also because a short number has more "punch" than a long one. I read this claim as but telling us that the real cost is not far from $30 million, perhaps something like $29, 565, 342.89 million, a number that is very unlikely to occur in a headline of a publication. Now see what you make of the following hypothetical headline.
Starr Investigation Costs Just $30 Million - April 1, 1998I believe you would read this headline as making a political point, in this case that the Starr investigation has been relatively inexpensive and we shouldn't worry our pretty little heads over the cost.
At a liberal web site I found this
Of course the guy who told Congress [the war in Iraq] would cost just 2 billion (a real financial genus -- sic), Bush made President of the World Bank.I am betting that the person who made this claim to Congress didn't say
The Iraq war will cost just 2 billion.This would be to suggest that 2 billion bucks is not a lot of money and suggesting such a thing would be the political equivalent of lighting a stick of dynamite and sticking it in one's mouth. Again, the social significance or meaning rears its head.
Another example of the social meaning or significance of the use of "just" in an assertion can be found in the following Wikinews statement.
A survey carried out by BBC Wales has revealed that the contents of a school meal in Wales cost on average just Â£0.49 per pupil.Interestingly the BBC news headline of the page Wikinews sends us to was quite different.
School meal average '48p a pupil'The number was different and there was no editorializing as to the priceyness of the meals by minimizing it. Wikinews, like Wikipedia, is a free source of information, including, it seems, some editorializing along the way. I gather that anyone can contribute to these projects. I haven't looked at all deeply into this but I suggest not relying any too heavily on the accuracy of the information. As we have seen, the facts can be a tad off and we get some editorializing.
The word "just" is quite popular. The Nike Corporation (not a link to Nike.com uses the slogan "Just Do It," which is a species of suggestion. Al Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders, is famous for his injunction, "Just win, baby." A Google search of "just win baby" yields a large number of sports sites. The fact that this Al Davis statement has been used by others for years seems to demonstrate that it resonates with people. The Nike use is an injunction something like"you can do this thing you want to do, so shed your fears and do it." The fact that they have used the injunction for years suggests that it too has resonated with a lot of people. It wouldn't shock me to learn that Nike learned from the Al Davis statement.
"Just" also occurs in popular songs. The "Spin Doctors" who had a meteoric rise with its first album, containing the song "Two Princes." It concludes
Marry him or marry me,This group spun off the charts rather quickly, not making a dent with its third album. The Cure has a very painfully selfish song I Just Need Myself. Check out how this song ends.
I'm the one that loves you baby can't you see?
I Ain't got no future or a family tree,
But I know what a prince and lover ought to be
I know what a prince and lover ought to be....
Said, if you want to call me baby
Just go ahead, now
And if you like to tell me maybe
Just go ahead, now
And If you wanna buy me flowers
Just go ahead, now
And if you like talk for hours
just go ahead, now
just go ahead now
I know that I don't love you but I tell you that I doNotice that the use of "just" in "I just need myself" in this song is very different from its use in the Spin Doctor's song. In the Cure's use it is little different from "only" and is insulting to the intended recipient. In the case of the Spin Doctor's song, we have a use of "just" that constitutes a grant of permission.
But I only buy you flowers if I want anything from you
You think that if you'll leave me it will put me on a shelf
But I don't need you girl
I just need myself.
I just need myself (3x)
I just need.