Being an arts and letters type of brain, almost anyone talking about science sounds intelligent to me. While listening to a science podcast recently, however, it struck me how often the female reporter—who was talking about a subject completely foreign to me with awe-inspiring expertise—said the word just. There are plenty of think-pieces about which modern speech patterns are the worst and unfortunately they’re usually biased against patterns that are considered feminine. Just, however, is a word I notice all genders abusing to the detriment of their perceived credibility.
Take a tally of how many times that word slips into your speech or emails during the day.
“I’m just checking in on this.”
“I was just wondering,”
“I’m just saying—”
Used as an adverb, just can mean several things, but that one that comes through in these phrases, the one that blows our credibility, is merely. You could argue that you mean one of the other definitions when you say just, but is that really how it sounds to most people?
“I’m merely checking in on this.”
“I was merely wondering,”
“I’m merely saying —”
How much credibility do you give someone who’s merely doing anything? The word is diminishing at best, disingenuous and defensive at worst. Diminished, disingenuous and defensive aren’t words that most people associate with respect or expertise, so why are we using them so much?
Just. Stop. There is nothing inherently wrong with checking in on something, wondering or being curious about something, or raising your voice to be heard. Try taking just out of your next email in the contexts listed above (I’m doing just fine and Just the other day are still good to go). Read it back to yourself and see if the meaning of the sentence changes for you. If you have something to say, don’t just say it, say it. If you need something, don’t just ask, ask. Make your words confident and others will have confidence in you!