Is Just Justified in Writing?

The little word just often gets a bad rap. Writers are warned to get rid of it. Like any overused word, writers need to manage the frequency of just in manuscripts. It tends to get used frequently. Let’s take a closer look at the uses of just.

Definitions of Just (The Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

1. exactly; very recently; barely; directly; only; quite; possibly

Very recently: Danny’s still warm coffee mug proved he’d just left the house.

Without just the meaning would drastically change. If I’d written, Danny’s still warm coffee mug proved he’d very recently left the house, I’d be dinged for using very. But recently is too vague; it could represent minutes to hours ago. Why not replace the two words with one – just.

Barely: When the car careened toward him, it just missed hitting his right bumper.

Taking just out changes the meaning. Then, we wouldn’t know how close he came to being part of a car accident. His car could have been missed by an inch or twelve feet. Just is vague, but it puts the space closer to the inch.

image by tajenli

Directly: “Honey, look just right of the tree trunk on that tiny branch and you’ll see the owl.”

Again just is vague, but it’s less wordy than: very close to the left of the tree trunk …

2. reasonable; correct or proper; morally or legally right; deserved or merited

His partner could argue all he wanted, but helping the victim was a just cause.

I think uses of just under these second definitions are … justified. Using synonyms, such as upright, honorable, conscientious, and honest will help if just becomes overused.

When Just Becomes a Weasel Word

When you enter the hunt to kill occurrences of just, start with cases similar to the examples below. They supply no benefit, unless the character would use the word in dialogue. Like weasels suck the egg from egg shells, just in the examples steals the power of the words adjacent to them.

I just hated going to crowded theaters.

He always just had to have his way.

Couldn’t he just see that I was sorry?

“There’s just no reason you should go.”

Careful. Don’t blindly remove the “just” occurrences from your manuscripts.  Click to tweet.

What do you consider before removing words like just?

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Don’t Let Weasel Words Suck the Life From Your Writing

“Nothing marks a skilled writer as much as his ability to write tight.” — Angela Hunt


Sometimes the words we use in our writing detract from other words in our stories.

Think of the alleged egg-sucking habits of weasels. An egg a weasel has sucked empty will look intact to the casual observer.

by galsio
by galsio

Weasel words suck energy from the victim words next to them. The victim words are there, but weaker.

Weasel words are sometimes the right words in dialogue if they’re consistent with the way characters would speak. Otherwise, if they rob the punch of adjacent words, delete them.


Examples of Weasel Words


256px-PSM_V54_D810_Weasel Just 

Just works fine when used for showing time. She could tell by his warm coffee mug that he’d just left. If we remove just, it changes the meaning of the sentence. 

Consider I just hate being late. Just robs half the power of hate. Without just, all the emphasis is appropriately on hate

I hate being late.

  256px-PSM_V54_D810_WeaselVery & Rather 

Do degrees of wrong and well help the next two sentences? Disliking her brother was very wrong. He took the news rather well. Are the words wrong and well vague? No. 

Very, sucks out wrong’s decisive nature. Ditto for rather describing well. 

Disliking her brother was wrong. 

He took the news well.

256px-PSM_V54_D810_Weasel Some

She poured some corn into the bowl. Some is unnecessary. We get the image with: She poured corn into the bowl.

  256px-PSM_V54_D810_WeaselImmediately & Suddenly

She slapped his face. He immediately grabbed her arm. If we remove immediately, do we think he did something else before he grabbed her arm? Immediately, powers down the action in grabbed.

She slapped his face. He grabbed her arm. 

Suddenly: After midnight, the doorbell suddenly chimed. Eva froze.

Suddenly tells us nothing new. It doesn’t add fear. The time of night and Eva’s reaction shows us the scariness of the passage. Let chimed retain it’s own powerful sound.

 After midnight, the doorbell chimed. Eva froze.

256px-PSM_V54_D810_Weasel Sure 

Compare: He sure loved her. and He loved her. Sure drains the love out of loved.


His sister really deteriorated after Paul left. Deteriorated is already a strong word. Really separates His sister from her problem and takes the emphasis from deterioration.

His sister deteriorated after Paul left.

256px-PSM_V54_D810_Weasel That 

Be careful on this one. That often helps clarity. But many times it adds wordiness. Try rewording to get rid of thats.

She realized that Randy didn’t care that she was ill, and that made it easier to leave him.

Removing unnecessary thats: She realized Randy didn’t care she was ill, and that made it easier to leave him.

Better would be to reword: Randy’s indifference to her illness made leaving him easier.

by clconroy
by clconroy

Weasel words suck the life from other words. Remove them. Click to tweet.

What are other weasel words commonly used?