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By Julianne Hill

just I’ve just about had enough. When my mother used to say that, I knew it meant she’d had more than enough. It was a thinly veiled warning to stop. Now. And if I didn’t, well, I knew I was toast.

Times have changed, and I have adjusted. Now, all she needs to say is just the “just” and I know I’m in a heap of trouble.

Just one cottonpickin’ minute, you’re saying. You (meaning me) say “just” all the time. You (me again) are just as guilty. You (yup) are unjust.

I’m not trash-talking just. Conventionally, “just” conveys the sense that something recently happened, or is about to happen, or, in jurisprudence, is fair, or almost fair. Recently, however, it has also come into use as a replacement for “merely,” usually by people who have no idea of the magnitude of what they are asking.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, here are a few examples:

• I just moved the deadline up a week. Really, it’s no problem.

• The instructions on how to fix your computer are right on the Internet. I know it’s a lot of documents to search through, but just look and you’ll find them.

• Hey, Atlas, just move it over an inch, okay?

Perhaps “just” is intended as a polite “quit your bitchin.” But it carries a belittling feel, a look down the nose, or more directly, “Can’t you just give me what I want and get out of my way.” Wave your hand, and bibidy-bobbidy-boo, it’s done. Just like that.

Just Blame Nike

I place the onus for this shift in meaning squarely on the shoulders of the shoe manufacturer Nike, and its “Just do it” slogan. The company has elevated “just” into the ranks of “like,” and, together, they are powerful amplifiers. It’s like, just really annoying.

At a secret meeting of the Association of Low Talkers, Mitch Apley and I recently led a session on “Just.”

The topic was Rodney King, the black drunk driver pulled over by two cops in Los Angeles in 1991 and beaten to a pulp on video by a husband-wife team of white police officers. Their acquittal on charges of police brutality in 1992 sparked riots in LA’s ghettos and a plea from King: “Can’t we all just get along?”

Sometimes, of course, we can’t. If you assume the innate goodness of human beings miraculously overcomes our innate evil, hegemony bows to harmony and the Golden Rule becomes a self-evident natural law, maybe we can, Apley noted. But it’s extraordinarily unlikely. There is in King’s plea that qualifying “just”––like there’s some wiggle room between getting along or not getting along.

Let’s all sing a round of kumbaya together, and we can just do it.

In Real Life

In real life, the answer to “can it be done?” is almost always yes. It may not be easy. It may take time we don’t have. And it may cost more than you want to spend. Ric Coken, the legendary head of Zenith/db studios used to say, “I can do it fast; I can do it cheap; and I can do it well. But you only get two out three.”

“Just do it” is the mantra of people who want to elide the differences. Like, when a client tells me, “Can’t you just swap out the background?” or “Just rework the ending and we’re golden!” I find myself thinking, “What planet is he coming from?”

I work in a creative environment where ideas become videos along a path that requires writers, cameramen, editors, graphic artists, sound designers and any number of other professionals to work collaboratively to push the boulder up the hill (and back down again.)

“Just do it” is an expression we use only when we are behind schedule and willing to make comprises. Coming from a client, it betrays a complete ignorance of the process. Can’t you just change red to green in step two and ripple it through to step 50?

As Apley told me after the session, when a client uses “just” in his request for a change, his knee-jerk reaction is “no.” Pick one to sacrifice – time, money or quality – and anything can be done.

But “just” doesn’t mean “merely.”

(Thank you, Mitch, for being my Linus explaining the real meaning of Christmas while I bumble around, Charlie Brown-like whining about the tree.)

Just stop asking me to change everything at the last minute. It just bugs me.


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