By Heather Darata
Welcome to a Way With Words. This online-only column will offer insight into why words are worded the way they are—whether in protocol or anywhere else. Words are vital. While pictures can convey messages, sometimes they are not enough. Words clarify what pictures are illustrating. Sometimes, it’s nearly impossible to put a photo in place of a word.
Take the word “just,” for example. Do you find yourself throwing “just” into just about everything you say? If you look in Webster’s New World College Dictionary Fourth Edition, “just” has eight definitions as an adjective and seven definitions as an adverb. With 15 definitions, it’s sometimes hard to decipher how someone is intending for you to interpret his usage of the word.
There are many ways to use “just.” I embraced the “just sayin’” phrase after hearing it from a friend; I’d find myself telling someone something that might not be considered a compliment followed by, “Well, I’m just sayin.’” Somehow that was supposed to let me off the hook for speaking my mind. It’s reminiscent of “bless her heart,” which follows a not-so-kind statement like, “Well, she can’t help being so naïve. She doesn’t get out much. Bless her heart.”
But back to “just.” There are many ways it creeps into conversation. How about this one: “I’m just a dispatcher”? The usage of “just” in that sentence sounds derogatory. Whether it is a dispatcher minimalizing the important role she plays in sending emergency help and providing instructions over the phone to save lives, or someone else in emergency services (such as a police officer or firefighter) who perhaps doesn’t understand a dispatcher’s vital role in emergency services speaking about dispatchers, it just doesn’t work.
There is no just about your job. Taking one word out of that sentence completely changes the meaning: “I’m a dispatcher.” I imagine a group of dispatchers holding their heads high while humbly recognizing the important, lifesaving work they perform shift after shift. With “just” omitted from the sentence, the message conveyed is quite different.
If there’s one thing you can take away from delving into “just,” it is to remember that every role in the emergency services profession is important—no ifs, ands, or justs about it.