This morning in bed I was enjoying the silence of nobody being in the house. This is an incorrect statement because there was a Japanese Visitor asleep upstairs, but at the time my reality was that nobody else was in the house. I was thinking about the word “just” and how when Aunty used it a few days ago, I got an uncomfortable feeling. We were discussing legs and pains around my knees. I mention my knee jobs made a lot of noise; she said it was “just wear and tear” and she moved the conversation on to something I can’t remember now.

When I look up “just” on dictionary.com it give adjectival meanings based around principals, rights, truth, standards and law; and an adverb based with the following options:

  • But a moment before;
  • Precisely;
  • By a narrow margin;
  • Only or merely;
  • Actually or positively.

It seems to me that “just wear and tear” is meaning only or merely wear and tear in the context it has been used. That seems quite dismissive to me.

I think this is a common issue where something that is seen every day becomes dismissed because it cannot be changed. The teenager that complains about pains in their legs – that’s just growing pains, it’ll go away. The computer that stops working – the computer has just crashed, try turning it off and on again. The food that is undercooked – it’ll be fine, it just needs a bit longer in the oven. The learner driver that keeps bumping the curb – you’ll be fine that’s just practise.

To me, each of those “just” sentences ignores the human context of the situation. The teenager may be anxious because things are happening that she doesn’t understand and could do with some reassurance. The student using the computer for writing up an important essay, was nearly finished and hadn’t taken a backup. The insecure cook who followed the recipe exactly and the pudding still didn’t turn out right. The middle aged man who has taken his driving test nine times already.

In my case, I can understand why my creaking knees are referred to as just wear and tear but hang on a minute I could do with some reassurance here! These are my only pair of knees. I’ve already accepted that I shouldn’t go running on them but how long are they likely to last? (I appreciate nobody knows) Will I have to give up other activities eventually? Is this unusual in a fifty year old? Is there anything I could do to help them last longer? Would new shoes help? Should I eat specific things? Should I avoid crossing them and putting pressure on one knee (as I am doing right now)?

Interestingly this is my reaction to somebody using “just” and referring something I have done. How often do I use “just” on things I say or think to belittle them? I was just wondering how you were getting on? I’m just curious why you say that. Don’t worry, I’m just annoyed at myself. Perhaps you’re just being over sensitive.

For something just four letters long, “just” can really muddy the waters.

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