The 4-letter-word word that makes my blood boil

Marcus Blankenship on February 09, 2017

“JUST” It's one of the worst four-letter words I know. Whenever I catch myself using it, I stop and apologize. And when I hear it, I hol...
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paceaux profile image

I read somewhere that "Just" is a four-letter-word that means, "someone else's job."

"Why can't you just get the color and compare it to one of our 6 brand colors, and if it is, output that brand color on our web page," was an actual thing asked of me. I had a client that wanted to just put a camera outside their HQ, just capture the predominant color that people were wearing, and just turn that color into one of their 6 branded colors that they could just put on a homepage, represented in an animated circle.

And because of that word "just", they thought the animated circle was the hard part. Because I could just compare one of 16 million colors captured in RGB to one of six... because color is just that simple.

"just" seems to be a mask that hides and summarizes a load of technical details. For the non-developer, they're details that are yet to be considered. For the developer, they're details yet to be vetted and validated.

danidee10 profile image
Osaetin Daniel

Not too long ago. I heard it countless times in a week from a Data management staff one of my company's clients. He's grossly unaware of a lot of things and believes you can "Just" write code to make things work without taking a lot of things into consideration (He programmed briefly in the past some years ago and feels he knows a lot about software development).

Initially when i joined the company, Like you I'll always nod my head in agreement so i don't look stupid in front of everyone but then i started to realize that "Just" was really hurting me when no one was watching. Most times i'll spend long annoying nights trying to meetup with unreasonable deadlines that i created for myself because i accepted that this was "Just" a new feature that could be implemented "easily".

Now once i hear the word "Just", i do a quick analysis in my brain, If the feature is going to take more time than expected, I waste no time in speaking up and explaining why this isn't "Just" another easy task or new feature.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I've been guilty of using this kind of phrasing passive aggressively to imply someone was overthinking a problem, while also feeling the sting of hearing it told to me under that context. In most cases, there were other issues at play providing a communication block that we had to overcome instead of slipping in generalizations that can be demeaning.

Thanks for a really illuminating article.

chrisvasqm profile image
Christian Vasquez

Could you explain some of those communication blocks you mention?

codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

Fantastic article! This is so very true...I've seen it many times, but never realized that the word "just" or "simply" were such reliable red flags of oversimplification. I'm going to be watching how I phrase things, and following your tips in my own job as a Lead Developer. Thank you!

productbrett profile image
Brett Evans

I'm glad this is not only me that has a rage about this! My team have gone and created a chat bot called brettbot that has a small rage every time somebody uses the word "Just" on our team hipchat room.

marcuscreo profile image
Marcus Blankenship Author

Glad y'all found it useful. :)

I've been guilty of it, and had it inflicted upon me, more times than I can remember. If you liked this, Chapter 2 of my book 7 Habits that Ruin your Technical Team talks more about this sneaky problem, and other bad habits you might have seen.

brambear profile image

Great write up. My Tech lead always uses this term and I literally cringe every time he says it in a conference call meeting. We're working on a monolithic application with a rigorous process - NOTHING is JUST or SIMPLE.

I kind of understand what he's trying to do though (and I hate myself for understanding it). Sometimes, you need to butter up management and try to convince them that the team is a competent bunch. Cringing doesn't stop there though, it's simply annoying when your lead says this and he/she himself/herself doesn't even see the complete picture and just stack up assumptions after assumptions.

I hope I didn't sound like I'm ranting. I really appreciate this write up.

alt_lv profile image
alt (Guna)

Good post.

I have noticed that I have used this word to belittle what I do/my thoughts. I almost used it while re-tweeting and suggesting a heuristic based on the insights in post and comments.

It's interesting how the usage and intention of the word was changed.

From this:

based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.
"a just and democratic society"
synonyms: fair, fair-minded, equitable, even-handed, impartial, unbiased, objective, neutral, disinterested, unprejudiced, open-minded, non-partisan, non-discriminatory, anti-discrimination; More
"that's just what I need"
synonyms: exactly, precisely, absolutely, completely, totally, entirely, perfectly, utterly, wholly, thoroughly, altogether, in every way, in every respect, in all respects, quite; More
very recently; in the immediate past.
"I've just seen the local paper"
synonyms: a moment ago, a second ago, a short time ago, very recently, not long ago, lately, only now
"I just saw him"

To shrugging things, thought and even people around as "That's just somebody..."
Now that I think I've used it also when I tried to explain why I did the thing that went sour - "I just thought that this will be helpful" In blame/shame strong culture this most likely would sound as poor excuse. In healthy environment it could sound more like insecure answer.


I will be more conscious on this one. (:
Now I do wonder how often and with which meaning I use this word.

aflashyrhetoric profile image
kevin oh.

At first I thought this would be sort of a nitpicky article on how to "communicate absolutely perfectly with your team for hyper-efficient productivity," but it makes really solid points on the role of embarrassment (or perhaps pride? or general unwillingness to interrupt?) in team communication.

I'm currently lucky enough to be part of a team that openly encourages interruption/discussion, but I've been in teams before where asking for clarification gave you the feeling that you were being a bother. This article should be read by everyone.

chrisvasqm profile image
Christian Vasquez

Thank you Marcus!

This is, hands down, one of my favorite posts ever in this community.

We joke about the "just" word a lot at my current job because we have been burned by it multiple times in the past, so we always repeat it whenever one of us says it louder than them before they finish to remind them to be careful about that assumption and have a laugh at the same time.

enovision profile image
Enovision GmbH

Another one that gets my hair stand straight up: "very important". I have read and heard that so often in my carrier in business meetings and Powerpoint presentations that I often thought, "why would you tell me something unimportant and waste my time".

enovision profile image
Enovision GmbH

So I am not the only one that gets at least 2 times a day annoyed for this abuse of the English words "just", "simply" and "easy". It has cost me lots of hours, days sometimes, that although it was mentioned to be easy, the explanation was so limited that I have thrown much good stuff overboard because of this.

The hardest thing is to assume that things are not easy and that nevertheless one is able to explain clearly how to make it to look easy.

Currently I am learning ReactJS and man, so many packages (NPM) have such a lack of clear documentation and so much "easy" assumptions. Then I think, the developer has so much effort in building something where he believes in and in the end the documentation is so poor that people hesitate to use it. So much time and good effort wasted.

In the old days I worked on IBM AS/400 and there were a ton of manuals, where you always thought that IBM didn't explain enough to make it simple. But at least they took the trouble to do it.

Web world developments is the worst place to be when you want to find clarity and....standards. Everyone is doing it again in its own way...that easy.

Great article, your words, my thoughts.

nutondev profile image

What you seem to be irritated with is just someone's vision to be later developed. I can actually see nothing bad in using this 4-letter word. It is often an equivalent of picturing that - what a web page, web app, whetever device is supposed to do - should seem so easy and simple to end user.

I admit, sometimes, the word "just" seems to be used in a way as if the speaker claimed to have just found the simplest possible solution among the ramblings and wants to put an eureka end to the discussion and receive all the glory.

At any rate, "just" should only be an introduction to having a more detailed discussion, having the person explain their expectations, perhaps specify preliminary acceptance criteria, and the tech lead should then come back with the expense of "just".

As a front end developer I know that non-techie people tend to think that we have an arsenal of magic buttons that we just keep in our secret vault, and when a "just" comes - we probably JUST copy and paste it into the code.

But usually visionaires don't mean to offend developers or tech leads, and are open to take feedback.

When I sometimes rethink my reactions to this "just"-type of talks, I find my overreacting to actually be a problem in my bad interpretation of someone's intention. I think Milind's way of handling the 4-letter word is perfect as it throws the ball into the right hands at the moment of saying that word.

tedhagos profile image
Ted Hagos

+1. You should develop this into a full article. I can relate to what Marcus is saying because I've been at the receiving end of the just word, but I also know that not everybody is out to get you by just using just

chadoh profile image
Chad Ostrowski

Hadn't heard the term "lullaby words" before, but 💯 – you can make anything sound simple, with the word "just"!

I've managed to almost completely purge "just" from my vocabulary, at this point. And "should", too! I wrote a whole blog post about that journey, when I first started it: blog.entire.life/no-more-shoulding...

I love the idea of stopping conversations to get more clarification when this word is used. I'm gonna start using that technique. 👌🏼

legolord208 profile image

you can make anything sound simple, with the word "just"

just with the word "just"* :P

bgadrian profile image
Adrian B.G.

Yes, so true. Usually for each "just" or "simply" in a meeting, a new follow up meeting is spawned, where only the one involved decided how "just" will be implemented.

Time estimations from the original meetings ofc are multiplied by at least a factor of 3.

scottnonnenberg profile image
Scott Nonnenberg

Yes! There are quite a few problematic words! 'just', 'actually,' 'easy,' 'real,' 'true,' 'obvious,' even 'deserve.' I dig in here with some ideas for alternatives. :0) blog.scottnonnenberg.com/avoid-the...

meduzen profile image
Mehdi M.

In the company I work for, I often hear fastly and [can we take] 2 seconds, which are on the same toxic line as just.

Also, I often exhume Brad Frost’s article about the exactly same topic: Just.

meaganewaller profile image
Meagan Waller

Thank you for this post! I especially appreciate your responses to how to push back against "just", "simply", etc. I think it's so important, and I'm going to be using these with confidence at work during technical convos, my favorite response is: “Maybe I'm missing something here, but can you explain that in more detail?”

khophi profile image

Just is an expression a lot of Clients of Hell use.

juliobiason profile image
Julio Biason

In my last job, we have a "Just jar" -- kinda like a Swear Jar, but for the word "just".

kwabenberko profile image
Kwabena Bio Berko

Awesome article, Marcus.
Always found it somewhat amusing when clients use this 4 letter word.

codecandycc profile image
Code Candy

As a kid I read that John Lennon thought the word "just" was useless, and I've always remembered that and I notice when people use it like that!

piotroxp profile image
Piotr Słupski

Thank you, Marcus. I was carrying the thought of writing about this particular issue for some time now - thank you for wording it so well.

nick_leake profile image
Nick Leake

Great article "Just" is really a terrible weird when it comes to requirements. Masking complexity is in it's nature.

elcotu profile image
Daniel Coturel

Good post,
Underestimating and oversimplifying an issue is a great danger.

antonfrattaroli profile image
Anton Frattaroli

Been avoiding the word since I first read this article. Constant reminder that any changes involves (and creates work for) a number of people. Very rare anything is just that simple.

yaphi1 profile image
Yaphi Berhanu

What a fantastic article! I especially like the phrases we can use when we find ourselves in this situation.

hawicaesar profile image

At least thrice a week...It gets annoying. I actually ask people to take it slow and explain it again