Consider something like this:
“You, too, could be the owner of this fabulous new cybermop – just 36 payments of only £29.99 a month!”
You can see here that putting the word ‘only’ in front of an amount doesn’t make that amount small.
And this doesn’t just apply to money – it applies to physical, mental, and emotional effort, too.
What job are your words doing?
In good content design, every word should have a clear, intended job. There are two common jobs that words like ‘just’ do. They can act as a microaggressor, or as a minimiser.
‘Just’ as a microaggressor
For disabled people in particular – including people who are situationally disabled – ‘just’ can be an exhausting word to hear.
“Just pick up the phone.”
This ranges from stressful to impossible for a lot of people. For example, autistic people might have overwhelming anxiety about such a task, and a lot of D/deaf people might not be able to hear someone talk on the phone.
Or perhaps you’re in an area where there’s no phone reception. Suddenly it’s not something you can ‘just’ do at all.
“Simply fill in the form.”
Is the form really simple? What if you’re dyslexic, speak English as a second language, or have ADHD? The last one in particular is deeply ironic – there are many people out there who are struggling to get an ADHD diagnosis because it involves filing out a lot of forms.
And what if the process involves printing out the form? Simply printing something is not simple if you don’t have access to a printer.
“It’s only a short walk.”
For me, a short walk is from the disabled parking bay into the supermarket front door. Is that what you mean? For others, even that is impossible. What do you really mean by ‘a short walk’?
What if you have children with you? Is it still short?
What all of these examples are saying is “You should find this task easy”. Picking up the phone, filling out a form, or walking should be easy, and if you disagree, then that’s your fault. Is that the message you want your content to convey?
‘Just’ as a minimiser
Using phrases like ‘just’ can also purposefully minimise the message. It’s something I do a lot in spoken language, and I’m trying very hard not to.
One of the most common things I still catch myself saying is ‘I only work part time’. It’s minimising the value. It’s apologising. I often want to follow it up with ‘it’s because I have chronic pain’ or ‘I find full time work difficult’. To explain why I ‘only’ work part time.
In fact, that’s not important. I work the hours that I have agreed to work, and that’s the work I get paid for. Same as anyone. “I work part time” is a much stronger message.
Positive jobs for ‘just’
There are some good jobs that words like ‘just’ and ‘simply’ can do in content design, but they’re rarer, and still need to be applied carefully.
They can be used to soften things, just occasionally. Like that – ‘just occasionally’. The ‘just’ there further emphasised the ‘occasionally’ to really make the point that this is something to only do sometimes.
“I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy.”
In this famous quote from Notting Hill, Julia Roberts is telling Hugh Grant that she’s not a movie star, she’s simply a human. It’s an intentional minimiser to get to the truth of the story.
Consider another example:
- “Do as much as you can.”
- “Only do as much as you can.”
The first sentence suggests someone pushing themselves, whereas the second makes it clear that they should keep to their limits. It’s still a minimiser, but it intends to be.
Just an adjective
The English language being the beautiful, complex mess that it is, we also have ‘just’ as an adjective, and that adjective can have two different meanings.
First, there’s ‘just’ as an adjective meaning ‘very’:
“I have just so much respect for people learning English as an additional language.”
The ‘just’ in that sentence emphasises this. ‘Just so much respect’ is a lot of respect.
While this is ok from an inclusion perspective, I’d be careful of that from a cognitive perspective. If I tell you something is ‘just beautiful’, I probably mean it’s very beautiful. But perhaps I mean that it is only beautiful – it has no function, and that’s a problem. Different individuals might come away with a different understanding, so I’d recommend using a clearer, more precise phrase.
A just world
However, we then have ‘just’ as an adjective connected to the word ‘justice’. It’s my personal belief is that this one should be used as often as possible as we fight for just treatment in a just world.